China orders controversial artist to pay back taxes

Chinese artist  Ai Weiwei speaks to reporters outside his studio in Beijing in June earlier this year.

Story highlights

  • The artist created the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the Olympics
  • Ai says the tax charges are "retaliation" for his views
  • He's not sure if he will appeal the order
The Chinese government is ordering outspoken artist Ai Weiwei to pay 15 million yuan ($2.3 million) in back taxes, a move Ai calls "retaliation against a dissident."
Ai said that two representatives from the Beijing tax bureau visited him Tuesday and presented him with documents from the tax authority, ordering the company FAKE Cultural Development Ltd. -- registered by Ai's wife Luqing -- to pay the taxes within 15 days.
Ai, who designed the distinctive "Bird's Nest" stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, said he is not even the legal representative of the company, but that police warned him Monday that as the "factual controlling person" of the company, he'd better prepare the money and pay it himself.
"They told me that 'The country said that you evade tax, then you evade tax. The country won't change the verdict, so don't you ever think it will. There's nothing you can do,'" Ai said.
The artist was detained in April on grounds of tax evasion. However, his family and human rights advocates believe that the real reason for his imprisonment is his criticism of the Chinese government. Ai was released on bail in June for his good attitude and medical concerns, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
Local authorities held a closed hearing in July on the tax evasion allegations despite demands for an open hearing from Ai and the company's lawyers. According to the artist, authorities also declined their demand to publish the accounting records and other evidence that lead to the tax evasion charge.
Ai told CNN he was initially detained and imprisoned on charges of "subversion of state power," but upon his release the charge was changed to tax evasion.
"This is against judicial law, and is unethical. How can a country use this way to try to silence dissidents?" he asked.
Ai said he'll consult with the lawyers on the next step, but so far there is no clear plan for him regarding how to pay the tax or if he is going to appeal. "The verdict is not reasonable, but we have to obey," Ai said. "If the government is not reasonable, no one can resist it."
"China always uses tax issues to cover up political issues. If the government keeps taking revenge on its dissidents with the law, it will only lead the country to its opposite side," Ai said.