Beijing bureau to review hefty tax fine on Ai's firm
The Beijing tax bureau agreed on Wednesday to review a 6.6 million yuan (HK$8.1 million) tax-evasion fine slapped on a firm related to artist Ai Weiwei - a penalty that many saw as an effort by authorities to stifle his activism.
'I can't say I'm surprised,' Ai told the South China Morning Post yesterday. 'There are indeed lots of problems with the case, and I believe they will treat this review seriously. I believe nothing is fixed, and every step is a test of the law. That's how authorities should see it too.
'But I don't think this is a sign of the authorities softening their stance either, as we still don't know the result.'
Ai's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang , said on his microblog account that he welcomed the decision, saying it was 'within reason and expectations'.
In November, the Beijing tax bureau issued a bill for about 15 million yuan in alleged back taxes and penalties to Fake Cultural Development, a firm founded by Ai but registered to his wife, Lu Qing.
The request for administrative review, approved this week, was just for the penalty part, and in a few days the company will file a request for another administrative review of the alleged back taxes in excess of eight million yuan, Ai said.
The outspoken artist was detained by police for 81 days last year as authorities rounded up dissidents, lawyers and bloggers amid online calls for an Arab-style 'jasmine revolution' in China. Ai was released on conditional bail in June, but he immediately faced investigation for tax evasion in relation to Fake Cultural Development.
The November bill gave Ai only 15 days to either pay the entire 15 million yuan or come up with an 8.45 million yuan guarantee. In the end, Ai paid the guarantee with the help of a wave of donations from supporters, which he described as 'paying a ransom'. He also faced investigation for alleged pornographic photos he took the year before.
The 9,000-word request for review of the penalty, made available online by Ai, said the legal basis for the penalty was itself illegal, and that the penalty was implemented in ways that violated procedures, including the illegal early interference of police.
By law, the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau now has two months to come to a decision on whether the penalty was rightfully or wrongfully imposed. If Ai and his team think the decision is unfair, they can bring an administrative lawsuit against the tax bureau.