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France should sell the Mona Lisa for £45bn to help its cultural sector recover from the coronavirus, a French businessman has suggested.

Stephane Distinguin is founder and chief executive of tech company Fabernovel.

He said that selling the famous 16th century Leonardo da Vinci painting was a “crazy idea” he had “been chewing on…for some time” as a way of helping French artists through the economic destruction brought by the virus pandemic.

Writing in French magazine Usbek & Rica, he implored France to “sell ​​the old to make the new, heritage for creation”, adding: “It is the mark of a nation that believes in its future and its artists.”

He wrote: “I launched this hypothesis as a provocation, but convinced of its moment and its naivety. Iconoclast in the full sense of the word. What if we sold the Mona Lisa?

“Day after day, we list the billions engulfed in this slump like children counting the fall of a stone into a well to measure its depth. We are still counting, and this crisis seems unfathomable.

“As an entrepreneur and a taxpayer, I know that these billions are not invented and that they will necessarily cost us. An obvious reflex is to sell off a valuable asset at the highest price possible, but one that is the least critical as possible to our future.

“A painting is easy to move and therefore to hand over. And we have a lot of paintings…In 2020, we have to get the money where it is. So sell family jewellery. Otherwise, only the Googles, Apples, Facebooks, Amazons, Microsofts, Disneys, Netflixs, Alibabas and Tencents of this world will be able to contribute to the funding of culture.”

When asked how much the painting would fetch, he said: “The price is the crux of the matter and the main subject of controversy.

“The price has to be insane for the operation to make sense. I estimate that it would take no less than €50bn (£44.7bn) to acquire the Mona Lisa. I was told that my estimate was very overvalued, even far-fetched, but each time without real arguments.”

Mr Distinguin, 46, founded his company in 2003 and he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest order of merit, last year.

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