Authorities To 'Review' Tax Fine

Chinese tax officials will investigate a tax appeal from Ai Weiwei.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei exercises in a car park in Beijing, Nov. 16, 2011.

Chinese authorities have accepted an application by outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei for a review of a 15 million yuan (U.S. $2.4 million) tax bill and fine handed to him in November.

Ai, who has already posted a bond for more than half the total amount, told RFA's Cantonese service on Thursday that he was unsure if the decision would go in his favor, however.

"Our request is entirely above board, and they should accept it," said Ai, who founded the Fake Cultural Development Co., which is now legally owned by his wife, Lu Qing.

"It's very hard to say what chance we have, but owing to the fact that so many people contributed so much money towards the bond, I really hope we can win this," he said. "The fact that they have accepted [our application] is a step forward."

Ai's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said the company had been issued two documents by the tax bureau—one of which was a bill requiring repayment of taxes allegedly owed by Fake Cultural Development, and the other a fine notice totaling the taxes Ai was said to have owed, and the related fine.

He said the current review was linked to the U.S. $2.4 million fine, and that Ai planned to lodge a request for a review of the tax assessment on which the fine was based next week.

Long-term detention

The bill followed Ai's 81-day detention by police at a secret location last year, which sparked an international outcry and prompted an angry response from Beijing.

Official media reports later said he was being detained under investigation for "economic crimes," but Ai and his lawyers suspect the tax charges are a political backlash against his vocal activism on behalf of China's least privileged people.

Thousands of Chinese netizens rallied in support of Ai and his family in recent weeks, sending at least 8.7 million yuan (U.S. $1.4 million) via online payment services towards the fine.

In a later campaign, some posted nude photos of themselves online after the authorities threatened to pursue a separate indecency case against Ai for a nude art photo.

Some of Ai's supporters later said they had been subjected to cyberattacks on their personal computers after they sent money via online services.

Last week, Ai's lawyers handed in a 9,000-word document requesting the review, pointing out inconsistencies with the case, including unregulated police involvement in Ai's detention and violations of China's tax code.

The 54-year-old artist—whose sunflower seeds installation was exhibited at London's Tate Modern last year—denies the tax evasion charges and insists the case is a politically-motivated attempt to silence his activism.

He has angered authorities with his investigation into the collapse of schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and into a 2010 fire at a Shanghai high-rise that killed dozens.

The sunflower seeds exhibition will open next in New York's Mary Boone Gallery.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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