Ai's wife disputes 12m yuan tax bill at 'unfair' hearing
A design firm linked to artist-activist Ai Weiwei appealed against a tax bill of 12 million yuan (HK$14.45 million) at a hearing in Beijing yesterday, and demanded the return of seized financial records it says it needs to fight the case.
The tax bill was issued after Ai was released on bail last month after being detained for three months.
At a three-hour closed-door hearing before the Beijing tax bureau, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, owned by Ai's wife, Lu Qing, formally appealed against the tax bill.
Lu was joined by lawyers Pu Zhiqiang and Xia Lin, both representing Beijing Fake Cultural Development, at the hearing. Ai was not present. After the hearing, Xia said the company was unfairly disadvantaged by the authorities' seizure of its financial records, which it needs to appeal against the tax bill. The records were seized after Ai's detention.
Xia said the authorities should have returned the documents by July 8, three months after the seizure, in accordance with Chinese law. 'Because we don't have any original financial records, we can't challenge [the tax bill],' Xia said. Their only recourse was to claim improper procedure. Lu called the hearing unfair.
Tax officials said the company owed almost 5 million yuan in back taxes from the past decade and over 7 million yuan in fines. Lu said they were presented with photocopies of the financial records at the hearing, which the tax authorities got from the police. Lu said she could not verify their authenticity because the company's accountants could not be reached.
Hu Mingfen, one of the accountants, was detained by police days after Ai was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport on April 3 as he prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong. Earlier media reports said Hu was released after Ai was granted bail on June 22, but Lu said she had not been able to reach Hu.
Xia said the authorities explained that a closed hearing was required because it concerned commercial secrets that involved a third party. 'But no third party opposed the hearing,' Xia said.
Pu said it was neither proper nor acceptable that 'a decision to mete out administrative punishment was made behind closed doors without an open hearing'. Xia said they reserved the right to take the issue to court.
Security outside the hearing was tight yesterday. Dozens of journalists were kept in a condoned-off press area, while police videotaped and wrote down details of the journalists waiting outside the tax bureau.
Xinhua reported earlier that Beijing Fake Cultural Development had been investigated for evading a 'huge amount' in taxes. But Ai's supporters and human rights groups cite his critical views of the authorities as the real reason for his detention.
On Wednesday, Berlin's University of the Arts offered Ai a position as a guest lecturer, and Ai indicated that he was willing to accept. But he is not allowed to leave Beijing within a year of being granted bail, authorities said.