Beijing last night said a company controlled by artist Ai Weiwei was found to have been involved in tax evasion and deliberately destroying evidence, signalling a possible harsh punishment awaiting the internationally renowned activist.
It was the first time the government had spelled out the possible charges against 54-year-old Ai, who has been detained for 45 days. Xinhua yesterday did not mention when charges would be laid against him.
Ai's mother last night expressed anger over the handling of her son's case, saying the family had not been officially notified of the findings of police investigations and his whereabouts.
'It is horrible and shameful that a country touted for the rule by law has treated its own law like this,' said Ai's mother, Gao Ying .
A brief Xinhua statement, released last night, said Beijing Fake Cultural Development, controlled by Ai, was found to have evaded 'a huge amount' of tax and 'intentionally destroyed accounting documents', citing an initial police investigation.
It said Ai was being held under 'residence surveillance' - which usually refers to detention - and had been allowed to meet his wife in accordance with the law.
His sister, Gao Ge, said the charges were unfounded because Ai was not responsible for Beijing Fake Cultural Development. 'He's not the company's legally designated representative or its chief executive. We don't really understand the vague statement, but we don't believe there has been a huge amount of money involved with the company,' Gao said in a telephone interview.
Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, a friend of Ai, said the activist could face up to seven years in prison for the tax evasion charge against his firm. But it was the second allegation of destroying evidence that signalled real trouble, Liu said.
Ai was picked up on April 3 as he was preparing to fly from Beijing to Hong Kong.