Chinese art star, activist, and one-time East Villager Ai Weiwei was detained without charge for 81 days by the Chinese government earlier this year, until he was released on bail, saddled with a one-year travel ban, and ordered to pay fines totaling $1.85 million. Now the Chinese government has upped the sum to 15 million yuan ($2.4 million), and given the artist 15 days to pay.
The fine, as Reuters reports, was leveled at Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company owned by the artist’s wife Lu Qing that “has helped produce Ai’s internationally renowned art and designs.”
According to Ai, the Chinese tax officials identified him as the “actual controller” of the company. “I’m a designer for the company,” he said. “I’m not a director, or even a manager. Of course, I know this matter is targeted at me.” The authorities maintain that the fine is targeted at the company, having nothing to do with the artist, who’s been an outspoken critic of China’s humanitarian shortcomings in his work and life.
And the tax officials have not presented any evidence of tax evasion, Ai says:
Up till this day, Fake Company has not seen any account statements. I told them: “This is not reasonable.” But they told me: “If the country says you have evaded taxes, then you must have evaded them. Why don’t you lose hope? This country will never change its ways.”
Songlian Wang, research coordinator for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, offers this analysis of Ai’s grim predicament: “It appears that the government is set to destroy him, if not economically then at least by setting up the stage to later arrest him for failing to pay back taxes.”