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Chinese dissident's company challenges tax evasion allegations

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Ai confirms he has been extended an invitation by a Berlin university
  • Weiwei was released last month on bail
  • Chinese dissident is answering tax evasion charges

Beijing (CNN) -- A company that Chinese authorities say is controlled by dissident artist Ai Weiwei challenged tax evasion allegations Thursday.

An attorney; Ai's wife, Lu Qing; and an accountant were to represent the design firm at the hearing.

Pu Zhiqiang, a famous human rights lawyer in China, told CNN that the Beijing tax bureau declined to have an open hearing and provided no reason.

Ai said he disagreed with plans to have a closed hearing.

"If we wish the modern society to function effectively, cases like this should be conducted openly with transparency and public witness," Ai said. "Otherwise a lot of problems would emerge."

Pu said that if the evidence is valid, he will advise Ai's company, which includes a studio, to pay the back taxes of 5 million RMB (US $770,000) and the punishment fee of 7 million RMB (US $1 million), which is in accordance with Chinese regulations.

If he does not find the evidence valid, however, Pu said that the company will appeal.

Ai, considered China's most famous artist, was originally 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 outspoken criticism of the Chinese state.

After three months in jail, Ai was released on bail in June, possibly for medical concerns.

Most famous for designing the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Ai later called for a boycott of the games because he said China was using them as propaganda.

Ai also has accused the Chinese government of trying to silence dissidents.

Also Thursday, Ai confirmed he had received an invitation from the Berlin University of the Arts to accept a professorship there.

"I won't be allowed to leave the country for at least a year so I'll have to wait until I'm free to have a clear plan about my future and my work," he said.

The president of the university, Martin Rennert, said the institution will welcome Ai whenever he can make it.

"We will wait for him to come when he feels the time is right," Rennert said.