Artist's Tax Case Kept Secret

Chinese authorities extend their investigation for 'tax evasion' to the wife of a prominent social critic.

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Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waves to reporters outside his studio in Beijing, June 23, 2011.

A design company belonging to the wife of prominent Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei says it is challenging the government's tax evasion case against it, which came after Ai was detained for more than 80 days for "investigation."

Ai said on Thursday that the investigation is now centering on the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Co., which is legally owned by his wife.

"Before, they were saying that the tax evasion problem was mine, but now it has become entirely a matter for the tax affairs of the Fake company," Ai said on Thursday.

Company lawyers and staff members of the Beijing Fake Cultural Development company, attended a closed hearing on Thursday to review evidence, which was also attended by Ai's wife, Lu Qing, the company's owner.

"Of course this is unfair," Lu Qing said after the meeting ended. "This meeting should not have been behind closed doors."

"This is a simple case, an economic matter," she said, adding that officials had confiscated documents and accounts from the company.

"All our accounts are now in the hands of the government," Lu said. "We are now empty-handed."

Tight security

Company employee Liu Yanping said Lu was accompanied in the meeting by her lawyer Xia Lin and an accountant. "The tax affairs office permitted Lu Qing to take two people in with her," he said.

Liu said the area outside the Haidian district tax office in the west of Beijing was under tight security.

"There were a lot of plainclothes police around the gate and on the road outside, and they were checking people's identification," he added.

Lu's lawyer Xia Lin said the hearing hadn't been conducted with due legal process.

"Hearings like this can only be closed to the public when they involve state or company secrets, or when they affect personal privacy," Xia said.

"Also, they didn't return the company's documents within the specified three-month period, so we objected on both these counts," he said.

Written protest

Xia said the hearing had remained closed in spite of a written protest filed last week.

"They have put a lot of obstacles in our way," he said, saying that more of the Fake legal team should have been allowed to attend.

Beijing released Ai in June pending trial for "economic crimes," having secured a promise from him to repay a large sum of money the government says was due in taxes, official media reported at the time.

Ai had been investigated "according to law" under charges of suspected economic crimes, and the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Co. had been found to have engaged in deliberate tax evasion amounting to very large sums, Xinhua news agency said.

Ai is still under considerable restrictions at his Beijing home following his release from detention pending trial for "tax evasion."

Chinese officials have warned that he is banned from leaving his "area of residence."

Ai said on Thursday that two employees of the Fake company had been missing for "a long time."

"In fact, I have heard from their relatives," he said. "Apparently, the police have forbidden them to get in contact with me."

Problems 'far from over'

He said that the problems of his family, and of those closest too it, were likely far from over.

"There is always going to be trouble, I expect," Ai said. "This whole affair is trouble."

However, Ai declined to comment further on the case.

"I can't say too much," he said. "I think it should have been open to the public, but this is a very old habit [of the government's]."

Ai recently accepted a visiting professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts, beginning in 2012, but has said he is unsure when he will be allowed to leave China.

His detention drew criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as from Amnesty International and other international rights groups.

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


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