Dissident artist Ai Weiwei says he was coerced into depositing an 8.45 million yuan (HK$10.4 million) guarantee with the tax authorities to avoid being jailed over a big tax bill that he says is retaliation for his criticism of the central government.
Ai, 54, yesterday paid the money raised by nearly 30,000 supporters into a Beijing tax bureau account set up to hold funds as collateral during appeal procedures.
The Beijing Tax Bureau had earlier told Ai that he needed to deposit 8.45 million yuan into a bank account as a financial guarantee before he could lodge an appeal against its demand for 15 million yuan.
The 8.45 million yuan covers what the authorities say he owes in back taxes and late payments and does not include a fine of around 6.6 million yuan.
But on Monday, tax officials refused to accept the proof of the guarantee, saying Ai should instead pay the money directly into one of the tax bureau's accounts.
Ai said he was reluctant to comply, as he feared that was a ploy to force him to pay up before the appeal and would amount to an admission of tax evasion - a charge he denies.
Yesterday, tax officials threatened to turn their investigation over to the police if Ai did not pay the guarantee by today. Not wanting to hurt his loved ones, he paid up, he said.
'I have no choice ... if I don't it would affect the safety of other people, like my wife, my staff, and they have suffered a lot already,' said the internationally-renowned conceptual artist, who has a toddler son.
His wife, Lu Qing, is his company's legal representative.
Ai was detained for 81 days without charge earlier this year during a sweeping crackdown on dissent. Some of his staff were also detained and harassed by the authorities.
Although the financial guarantee from a taxpayer during an appeal is held temporarily as collateral by the tax bureau, the bureau can keep the money as payment for taxes owed and late-payment penalties should the appeal fail, an official at the Beijing tax bureau said yesterday.
Ai said he was certain his bid to contest the tax evasion charge would fail because he was told by officials during his detention that his treatment was the result of his criticism of the government.
'The [tax] authorities know this whole thing is political so ... nobody is willing to argue because it is beyond their control and there are unknown forces at work,' Ai said.
Additional reporting by Laura Zhou