Artist-activist Ai Weiwei is being pursued for more than 12 million yuan (HK$14.4 million) in unpaid taxes and fines, according to a lawyer and friend.
Liu Xiaoyuan said Beijing's tax office had issued a notice to the FAKE Design company, where Ai's wife, Lu Qing , serves as legal representative, to pay the amount.
Almost 5 million yuan was for unpaid taxes and the fines totalled more than 7 million yuan, Liu said, adding that he had seen the notice.
It was not clear how the sum was calculated.
Ai, who was released on bail one week ago and given a year-long gag order, was told to respond to the notice in writing within three days if he objected. Liu said he did not know whether Ai was going to pay, or whether he could even afford to pay.
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang confirmed yesterday he would represent FAKE Design in the tax-evasion case. He said his client would consider seeking an administrative hearing to determine if the tax bureau had sufficient administrative and legal basis to demand the money.
'We are very inclined to call the hearing now,' Pu said.
More than a month after Ai was taken away at Beijing Capital International Airport on April 3, Xinhua said he was being investigated on suspicion of economic crimes such as tax evasion and of deliberately destroying business records.
Xinhua said Ai was granted bail because he had confessed and promised to pay the money he owes. Another factor, it said, was his chronic health problems.
The detention of Ai, an international acclaimed artist renowned for criticising Chinese society and politics, highlighted the government's crackdown on activists amid repeated online calls for people to stage their own 'Jasmine Revolution', like the ones in the Middle East.