New twist in Ai Weiwei's tax battle
Dissident artist Ai Weiwei yesterday lashed out at Beijing tax authorities for hindering his efforts to appeal against his 15 million yuan (HK$18.36 million) tax bill, saying it was a ploy to force him to pay up and effectively admit tax evasion.
The Beijing tax bureau told Ai, co-designer of the iconic 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that he needed to deposit 8.45 million yuan into a bank account as a financial guarantee before he could pursue an administrative review of its demand for 15 million yuan in back taxes and late-payment penalties.
Ai, 54, who was detained for 81 days without charge earlier this year, sees the hefty tax penalty as retaliation by the authorities for his relentless criticism of the Communist Party. But yesterday, two days before the payment was due, tax officials refused to accept the proof of the guarantee, saying he should instead pay the money directly into one of the tax bureau's accounts.
'Now they're saying we have to deposit it into the tax bureau's account [so] even during the appeal, they can just take it, which is not fair,' Ai said. 'That way they can tell the public: 'This guy has paid and the case is over ... that's all they want, they're so childish.'
Ai said it was just the authorities' backhanded way of coercing him into paying the bill and effectively admitting tax evasion - a charge he denies. For the sake of clearing his name, Ai said he would not give up his fight, but also said he could not afford to be optimistic.
'We can never win in court,' he said. '[Before], they told me that if the state said you've violated the tax law, you'd better admit to it because the state would never change its mind,' he said, referring to what he was told by officials at the beginning of his detention in April. They made clear that his treatment was the result of his criticism of the government, he said.
An official at the Beijing tax bureau refused to comment yesterday.
Ai, officially barred from giving media interviews after he was released on bail in June, said continued persecution from the government meant he had no choice but to speak out - even though he is often warned that he could be detained again.
'[They said] we can take you in and never let you out again, don't forget that,' Ai said. 'The threat is always there ... they make sure you understand that nothing can protect you.'
Ai's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said the tax authorities' refusal to accept Ai's financial guarantee, and demand payment of a deposit instead, was 'obviously hurting or restricting the taxpayer's right to pursue an administrative review'.
As of late Sunday, nearly 30,000 supporters had donated 8.69 million yuan to help Ai pay the hefty tax bill and fines. Ai has said he is treating the money as loans that he will pay back. The donations were his supporters' vote of defiance against government suppression, he said.
Ai's detention during a sweeping crackdown on dissent this year sparked an international outcry.