China orders Ai Weiwei to pay $2.4 million for "tax evasion"

Tue Nov 1, 2011 1:52am EDT
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By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has ordered dissident artist Ai Weiwei to pay 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in back taxes and fines allegedly due from the company he works for, Ai said on Tuesday, a case supporters said was part of Beijing's efforts to muzzle government critics.

The 54-year-old artist, famous for his work on the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing, was detained without charge for 81 days this year in a move that drew criticism from Western governments. He was released in late June.

Ai told Reuters he received the notice from the tax authorities that described his title as the "actual controller" for Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., which has helped produce Ai's internationally renowned art and designs.

The company is owned by his wife, Lu Qing, who is the firm's legal representative.

"They made up this new title," Ai said. "I'm a designer for the company. I'm not a director, or even a manager. Of course, I know this matter is targeted at me.

"They said: 'We're fining the company, not you.' But I said: 'Why was my name singled out by the government, at the foreign ministry briefings?' But they still said to me: 'This has nothing to do with you.'"

Rights activists said the charges were a pretext for silencing the artist who has been a fierce government critic.

"It appears that the government is set to destroy him, if not economically then at least by setting up the stage to later arrest him for failing to pay back taxes," said Songlian Wang, research coordinator for Chinese Human Rights Defenders.   Continued...

<p>Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei closes the door to his studio after speaking to the media in Beijing June 23, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray</p>