Ai Weiwei’s Tax Troubles Take New Turn

November 14, 2011 Updated: November 21, 2011
Pu Zhiqiang the lawyer for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei
Pu Zhiqiang (C), the lawyer for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, talks to the media at the artists studio in Beijing on Nov. 14, Pu said the tax office in Beijing has refused to accept money the activist needs to pay in order to lodge an appeal against a huge tax bill. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Beijing tax authorities have thrown up another hurdle for Ai Weiwei and his legal team that seek to contest a politically charged tax case against the dissident-artist.

Ai’s attorney Pu Zhiqiang told The Epoch Times on Nov. 14 that they submitted a bank deposit certificate, a necessary step to be able to contest the charges against Ai and get the case reviewed.

After being released from jail Ai was hit with a demand that the company that produces his art, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., pay “back taxes.” Observers regard the charges as politically motivated.

But rather than accepting the bank deposit certificate as collateral and moving the case forward, the authorities demanded that the money—8.5 million yuan (US$1.3 million)—be paid directly into a tax bureau account.

“This is not required by the law, so we decided not to cooperate,” Pu said.

He said that they have complied with the tax bureau’s regulations, and that they have followed the law closely. The demand to directly pay the money over “makes us feel so humiliated,” Pu said.

Pu said his law firm has sent a notice to the tax bureau: “As tax payers, we are telling the tax authorities how we interpret the law and what we are expecting from them.”

After Ai Weiwei received a tax bill of 15.22 million yuan (US$2.4 million) on Nov. 1, donations have been pouring in, along with supportive messages.

Ai’s assistant Liu Yangping told The Epoch Times that the campaign to enlist “creditors” ended at midnight on Nov. 13 (or early on Nov. 14), and they had received 8.69 million yuan (US$1.37 million) from over 29,000 people. She said money still continued to pour in. Ai regards the monies as loans, not donations.

Pu has maintained that they will not pay the fine, instead requesting an administrative review. Ai has been threatened with jail if he fails to pay up.

Gao Ying, Ai’s mother, said in a radio interview that the enormous tax penalty was the authorities’ way of oppressing Ai, destroying his reputation, bankrupting him, and finally silencing him.

Pu sees major holes in the tax penalty story that he expects may be resolved through administration review—though that could take at least a year.

Ai Weiwei talks to an unidentified friend in his courtyard
Ai Weiwei (R) talks to an unidentified friend in his courtyard. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Ai, an outspoken critic of the Chinese regime, was detained on what are mostly considered to be fabricated tax evasion charges in April, and held at an undisclosed location for 80 days. He was released in June under the condition that he keeps a low profile.

He told Deutsche Welle that the public support he received was heartening.

Chinese freelance writer, Yin Deyi, one of Ai’s new “creditors,” told Deutsche Welle that he saw hope in the process. “A lot of people have expressed opposition to the dictatorship, which is a huge improvement for China,” Yin said.

Ai was not as optimistic about the process of administrative review, in an interview with Voice of America. “This is all we can do as citizens. The taxation bureau and public security work like a family. What they have done to me is beyond my imagination. When I was under detention, they warned that I might be locked up for 10 years.”