Ai Weiwei loses tax evasion case
By Alexis Lai, CNN: Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei lost his lawsuit against the Beijing tax bureau in a local court hearing Friday, leaving him still subject to tax evasion charges and more than $2 million in fines.
The 53-year-old provocateur has been embroiled in a tax evasion case brought by the Chinese authorities last year against his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.
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He told CNN he was denied access to his second court hearing today, as he was to his first court hearing on June 20. Police called his mobile phone on Thursday afternoon, warning him not to go to court. Police cars were also parked outside his studio and Beijing Chaoyang District Court today, he said, much like his first hearing when tens of police cars surrounded his home, and public buses were rerouted away from the court area. Ai said many other activists were also detained in their homes.
Ai told CNN that he would file an appeal to the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court.
“We appeal to the court in strict accordance with every law in China. We hope to give them a chance to realize their mistake and make it right.”
“It’s not about my personal reputation,” Ai added. “I do this because we’re citizens of this country, it’s about everyone’s safety and the justice of the law.”
“It’s my obligation to keep appealing to a higher court, or I’ll be part of the mistakes.”
Ai contends the tax evasion charges are baseless and politically-motivated.
In a characteristic ironic twist, Ai is hoping to get his day in court in other ways.
In November, the authorities demanded he pay RMB 15 million (US$ 2.4 million) in back taxes and fines within two weeks. Tens of thousands of supporters donated more than RMB 9 million (US$ 1 million) to help him pay the bill, some even throwing RMB100 notes folded into paper airplanes over the gate of his house. Ai used the donations to post a payment guarantee of the invoice in order to file a lawsuit against the local tax bureau to protest the charges.
Ai told CNN that he issued 13,000 IOUs during the donation process for those willing to accept them. As he will now be unable to repay the IOUs, the artist says he is urging the holders of the IOUs to sue him, so that he will forced to be in court “for the next twenty years.” According to Chinese law, defendants are required to show up in court.
The outspoken artist, blogger, documentary filmmaker, and architect was on his way to Hong Kong in April 2011 when he was taken into custody at Beijing’s international airport and detained for 81 days amid a government crackdown on political activists. Ai’s studio in Beijing was raided, and his wife and several employees were taken into custody for questioning. The government campaign was attributed to fears of a potential Arab-Spring-style uprising, following online calls for a “Jasmine Revolution.”
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Seven weeks after Ai was taken into custody, state news agency Xinhua reported that Beijing police said his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., evaded a “huge amount of taxes” and “intentionally destroyed accounting documents.”
He was released on probation the following June and subjected to severe restrictions on his movements. Ai was forbidden to speak to the media or post on his Twitter account about his detainment. His phone was tapped, his e-mails were checked, and he had to report his appointments with other people to the police.