Ai Weiwei pays tax bond 'to save associates'

Dissident artist says he paid $1.3m bond to government over tax row after officials threatened to hand case to police.

    Ai said 'those in power have the right to do anything and their power faces no restrictions'

    Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei says he has deposited a $1.3m guarantee into a government bank account out of concern for his associates after tax officials threatened to turn their investigation into his company over to police.

    The outspoken artist has been locked in a dispute with authorities who say Ai's Beijing Fake Cultural Development company owes $2.4m in back taxes and fines.

    "It's very simple," Ai said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "Those in power have the right to do anything and their power faces no restrictions."

    Ai, an internationally acclaimed conceptual artist, was taken away by police to a secret location for nearly three months earlier this year during a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent.

    The artist was the most high-profile target of a sweeping crackdown on activists that started in February in a bid to prevent protests similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa. He was released on bail in June.

    Ai disputes the government's tax-evasion allegations and says he does not even own the company involved.

    The company wants to fight the tax bill, but had to put down a guarantee of $1.3m to do so.

    'Threat is real'

    Beijing tax bureau officials told Ai's wife Lu Qing, the company's legal representative, that they wanted the bond paid into one of the tax bureau's bank accounts.

    They said if the company missed the Wednesday deadline to do so, the case would be sent to police, Ai said.

    "They were, of course, issuing a threat to us, but the threat is real," he said.

    Supporters have raised for $1.4m for Ai, but the artist and his company's lawyers said transferring the money into the tax bureau's accounts could be seen as admitting guilt, and that if they win the case it would be difficult to get the money back.

    Instead, Ai was planning to be the guarantor and offer a bank certificate of deposit as collateral.

    Ai said concern for the safety of his associates prompted him to give in to the tax bureau's demand.

    "If you don't do it this way, they might send you to the public security, then the public security organ can use some other procedure, under the charge of refusing to pay taxes, to do what, I don't know," Ai said.

    "Of course, this would have been very unsafe for a lot of people."

    His company's lawyers say the tax bureau's demand is illegal. Repeated phone calls to the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau's propaganda department rang unanswered on Tuesday.

    Ai said that if the case were to go to the police it was possible that they would detain his wife as the firm's legal representative.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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