Dissident artist Ai Weiwei says Beijing's tax office has demanded he pay 15 million yuan (HK$18.3 million) in back taxes and fines, in what he says is a reprisal for his criticism of the Communist Party.
Ai, who was detained for nearly three months this year, said three officials from the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau had told his wife, Lu Qing, the legal representative of their design company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, about the tax notifications last Friday.
'If it's a tax problem, I'll pay. But if it's not, I won't pay,' Ai told the Post yesterday, adding he was given 15 days to settle the dues.
He said the two tax notifications sent to his wife stated that he had to pay more than 15 million yuan: 5.3 million yuan in back taxes, 6.8 million yuan in penalties and around 3 million yuan for interest on delayed payments.
Ai's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said Ai would probably lose his freedom again if he failed to pay.
'The penalty is targeting the [Fake] company ... but if Ai and his company refuse to pay, the worst situation is that Ai will be arrested again by the authorities,' Pu said.
'The whole matter is ridiculous because so far there is no evidence to show that the [firm] is involved in tax evasion. And there is also a lack of an open and fair hearing on this case.'
Pu said the authorities confiscated original documents from Ai's company, including its account books and records of its operations.
However, officials did not specify any particular deals or the dates when the company purportedly failed to file their tax reports, the lawyer said.
Ai was taken into custody in April as he prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong. His detention came after Beijing cracked down on human rights activists in February following online calls for a so-called jasmine revolution in China, emulating those in the Middle East and North Africa.
The authorities later accused Ai of 'economic crimes' including tax evasion, but he was released on bail from police custody in June.
Beijing authorities held a closed tax-evasion hearing in July to examine Ai's case, but the 54-year-old artist was barred from attending. His wife was present.
'Accounts for tax purposes should be investigated by the tax bureau, not the police. But it's the police that took me away to an unknown place for 81 days to investigate taxes,' Ai said yesterday.
He said the authorities had threatened the company's accountant and manager, and prevented them from meeting him.
'I just want to say, if a country is determined to do something in the world, it's a must to protect every citizen's human rights well [and] building up a fair legal system [is] the only option,' Ai said. 'However, I am feeling so [unsafe] in my country.'
Ai said he told the authorities it was unfair to fine him because he was a designer for the company, not a director or manager. However, they argued that Ai was the 'actual controller' of the firm.
'They finally made up this new title ... I know this matter is targeted at me. The authorities warned that they would give me a hard time when I was detained,' Ai said.
'The officials [from the Beijing taxation bureau] said that they are not fining me, but the Fake company. But when I asked: 'Why was my name singled out by the government, at the Foreign Ministry briefings?' They still said to me: 'This has nothing to do with you'.'
On his Twitter page, Ai wrote that officials warned him he could not avoid the 'tax penalty'.
He said: 'They [taxation officials] told me seriously: 'If the country says you have evaded taxes, then you must have evaded them'.'
Ai noted discrepancies in the tax amounts authorities were charging him. He said that when he was detained, officers asked him to pay up to 60 million yuan in back taxes, then the amount was reduced to 20 million yuan after his release.
'Now the authorities say they will set me free if I pay the [15 million yuan], set according to my financial capability,' he said.
The amount, in US dollars, Beijing spent on the Bird's Nest stadium, which Ai Weiwei helped design for the 2008 Olympics