Ai pays Beijing tax demand, partially

Nov. 16, 2011 at 6:15 AM
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BEIJING, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Government critic and international artist Ai Weiwei paid $1.3 million as a bond to Chinese tax authorities but vows to fight their demand for $2.4 million in total.

Ai put the money into a tax department bank account after the department said two weeks ago he had to pay up or face police prosecution.

He went to his bank accompanied by tax officials to transfer the money, the BBC said.

Ai has denied repeatedly he or his design business the Beijing Fake Cultural Development owe any money to the tax department. Police claimed the company controlled by Ai was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents.

"I feel upset and helpless," Ai told the BBC after depositing the money this week. "The whole process is absolutely outrageous.

"This is the only way we could lodge an appeal. If we missed this deadline they said they could turn the case over to the police," he said.

His move is the latest twist in what many of his supporters claim is persecution by the government after his arrest in April and release from detention in June.

Ai, 54, was detained April 3 at Beijing airport as he waited to board a flight for Hong Kong. It was during his detention when he was kept incommunicado that police charged him with tax evasion.

Immediately after his release at the end of June, he told the BBC his freedom was curtailed by Chinese authorities.

At the time of his release, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported Beijing police released Ai "on bail and for his good behavior under arrest, for confessing his crimes and also because of "a chronic disease he suffers from."

Police said Ai had repeatedly said he was willing to pay the taxes he had evaded, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

Most if not all of the money he handed over this week had been donated to him by an estimated 30,000 sympathizers. He also asked for donations to stop.

Despite his claims that his freedom was curtailed after being released from detention in June, by August he was tweeting about the continued detention of two political activists he met while in prison.

In a tweet he urged support for Wang Lihong, a human-rights activist held since March and who faces trial for "creating a public disturbance," and Ruan Yunfei, a writer and dissident from Chengdu who has been detained since February and faces possible charges of subversion.

"If you don't speak out for Wang Lihong and don't speak out for Ruan Yunfei you are not only a person who doesn't stand up for justice and fairness, you don't have any self-respect," Ai wrote.

In a previous tweet, Ai named four friends who were detained alongside him and who were released at the end of June.

"Because they were connected to me, these four people, Liu Zhenggang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao, Zhang Jingsong, were illegally detained and though innocent, underwent great mental and physical torment," Ai wrote.

Among his artistic and design work is a collaboration with Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron as the design consultant for the 91,000-seat Beijing National Stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest," for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But a year before the Games opened, he dismissed his work on the project, saying it was a "fake image" to divert attention at home and abroad from China's poor human-rights record.

"I would feel ashamed if I just designed something for glamour or to show some kind of fake image," he said in August 2007.

He was a prominent supporter of an investigation into corruption by government officials in building substandard schools that allegedly contributed to the deaths of more than 5,000 students in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

More than 7,000 schoolrooms collapsed during the earthquake that also injured 15,000 students. The total death toll was around 70,000 people and 375,000 injuries.

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