Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said he has been ordered to pay more than 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in back taxes and fines within 15 days.
Officials from the Beijing municipal tax bureau presented Ai with a notice yesterday about money allegedly owed by Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., the design company it claims he controls, he said in a phone interview. Ai, who was imprisoned for 81 days without charge earlier this year, said he has not seen proof of the authorities’ claim and that he only works for the company as a designer. He called the claim an excuse that the government is using to explain his arrest.
“It’s very weird because the tax bureau said this is not about you, it’s about a company, but the police said you are the actual controller of the company,” Ai said yesterday. “They have to make up something to justify their actions.”
Ai’s April 3 detention at the Beijing airport was the most visible in a series of arrests, harassments and unexplained disappearances of activists in China after a surge of pro-democracy protests in the Middle East that spurred online calls for nationwide rallies in China.
Officials at the local tax bureau office in Beijing that Ai said had given him the notice did not answer a call seeking comment yesterday. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in April that Ai was arrested on suspicion of economic crimes.
An internationally known artist, Ai had an installation at London’s Tate Modern gallery turbine hall featuring millions of ceramic sunflower seeds. He collaborated on the design of the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, working with the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.
When Ai was released in June, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Beijing police as saying that Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. evaded a “huge amount” of taxes and destroyed accounting documents.
Ai said the manager and accountant of Beijing Fake Cultural Development are in detention and he can’t speak with them to resolve the issue.
“It doesn’t matter, even if you pay, they can still find another excuse to put you away,” Ai said. “I feel I have no choice but I also feel sad for them because they are doing something that hurts their credibility.”
In a post on his Twitter account earlier yesterday, Ai said the tax authorities had first told him he owed 60 million yuan, then 20 million before telling him they were lowering the amount again “considering your abilities.”