Renowned artist Ye Yongqing has broken his silence three weeks after he was accused of copying works from a Belgian artist , a claim that rocked the Chinese art world. The 61-year-old oil painter said in an open letter on Monday that he has engaged lawyers in Belgium to resolve the matter after Christian Silvain accused him of plagiarism. Ye, whose buyers are said to include Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, denied he was a plagiarist and said he had no choice but to engage the lawyers to protect his own reputation after efforts to contact Silvain failed. Ye posted the open letter on WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform. Silvain, a 69-year-old painter and sculptor based in East Flanders, complained to local media last month that Ye had copied several of his paintings three decades ago, and that one of these works had sold for 100 times more than the original. He said that several of Ye’s paintings used an identical style and symbols to his works, publishing copies of his works alongside Ye’s to allow members of the public to make their own comparisons. A number of Chinese artists came out in support of Silvain’s charges, but Ye remained silent until Monday. “I came to your country recently, but was unable to meet you in person nor did I have an opportunity to communicate with you,” Ye said in the letter. “You think that I am a liar, and I have amassed great wealth by plagiarising your works, and that I am supported by many people with a vested interest. However, none of this is true.” Ye Yongqing ‘deeply influenced’ by Belgian artist he’s accused of copying He also stressed that he wanted to talk with Silvain directly and not through media since this would be “more sincere, civilised and logical”, but because this approach had failed he had been forced to seek legal advice. He also attached a legal statement that emphatically denied that charge of plagiarism. Silvain’s allegations have attracted attention around the world because of Ye’s influence and the long-standing concerns about plagiarism and intellectual property rights in China. Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where Ye studied and has worked as a professor, said in a statement earlier this month that it had launched an investigation into the matter and insisted it would not tolerate any academic misconduct from faculty members. Known for his paintings of birds, Ye made headlines in 2010 when one crude, childlike drawing of a bird was auctioned for 250,000 yuan (around US$37,000 in today’s money). US-China trade war takes air out of Chinese art market bubble His works have been exhibited internationally, including at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Singapore Art Museum. Buyers of his works are said to include Microsoft co-founder Gates, media mogul Murdoch and the Taiwanese businessman and collector Lin Mingzhe.