China's Ai Weiwei agonizes over paying tax bill

Tue Nov 8, 2011 3:05am EST
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By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said he is still agonizing over whether to pay a 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) bill for alleged tax evasion due next week and tacitly admit guilt, or to fight the charge and possibly risk detention again.

Supporters of Ai, whose 81-day secret detention earlier this year sparked an international outcry, have said the tax case is part of Beijing's efforts to muzzle China's most famous social critic, and many have chipped in contributions.

In four days, more than 20,000 people have donated about 6 million yuan ($945,000) over the Internet, by post and even by folding bills into "airplanes" and flying them over the walls of his home in northeastern Beijing, Ai said on Tuesday. But he said he has not decided whether to pay the tax bill.

"I'm still very hesitant about it," Ai told Reuters in an interview. "Last night, I said: 'Come on, I'm not going to pay anything.'"

"Even if I got all the money and support from the public, police told me just yesterday: 'Well, it's good, you still have the intention to pay. If you pay, that means you admit the crime,'" Ai said. "It will justify the way they've arrested me. By myself, in my heart, I won't pay a penny."

Ai appeared torn about the options he faces compared with last week when he told Reuters he would fight the charges "to the death."

Ai said he has enough on hand to pay the first 8 million yuan in back taxes and late payment penalties that is required by next Tuesday to get an administrative review, in which a panel re-examines the merits of an official decision.

At first, Ai mulled using his 79-year-old mother Gao Ying's house as collateral. On Tuesday, however, he said meeting the deadline that way may not be possible because of the time needed to process the paperwork.   Continued...

<p>Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei speaks to members of the media in the doorway of his studio after he was released on bail in Beijing June 23, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray</p>