BEIJING Chinese authorities have rejected Ai Weiwei's appeal on a 15 million yuan tax evasion penalty allegedly due from the company he works for, the dissident artist said on Thursday.
Supporters of Ai, whose 81-day secret detention last year sparked an international outcry, have said the tax case is part of Beijing's efforts to muzzle China's most famous social critic.
Ai said the tax authorities told him on Thursday afternoon that they will uphold the original decision. He said he plans to file lawsuits against the Beijing tax authorities and the Beijing public security bureau within the next 15 days.
"Thirty thousand people want us to get to the bottom of this and everyone is very supportive," Ai told Reuters by phone.
"I can honestly say, I never had much expectations. This government, from the very beginning, has never changed any of its decisions. Which society is capable of that?" he said.
Ai paid a bond of 8.45 million yuan last November - all contributions from tens of thousands of supporters - that allowed him access to an administrative review of the tax evasion charges. He said at the time that he was pessimistic about successfully contesting the charges.
The 54-year-old artist told Reuters earlier that he received a notice, dated March 23, from tax authorities on Tuesday saying Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., which has helped produce Ai's internationally renowned art and designs, would only be given a written hearing and not a public trial.
"I think this is inconceivable," Ai said. "Our lawyer said: 'Which country in the world doesn't dare to face their own taxpayers?'"
"As the people who've been charged, we aren't afraid of making it public. But as a country, how can you be afraid of being transparent?" Ai said.
Beijing tax authorities were not immediately available for comment.
The company's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said written decisions are legal, but are "a bad sign" because they usually uphold the original decision of the case.
Pu said authorities have not shown him any original documents with evidence of the alleged tax evasion and held a closed hearing last July. Pu said it was illegal for them to do so. Ai was barred from attending, but his wife, Lu Qing, was present.
"All these circumstances have led me to firmly believe that the handling of Ai Weiwei's company's (case) is a form of persecution, and that the tax authorities are helping the public security organs do their work under orders," Pu said.
Ai was detained without any charge in April and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release in June.
The bearded artist has ignored efforts to silence him and has instead become a rallying point for China's dissidents and activists under pressure since a government crackdown last year brought a wave of detentions and arrests.
Ai had collected more than 9 million yuan, that he says he will return, from about 30,000 donors, for the tax penalty.
The tax authorities have until the end of April to give him a decision on the administrative review of the case, he said.
When Ai was released on bail last June, the government said he remained under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes.
Ai told Reuters previously that he had not received a formal notice to explain "suspected economic crimes".
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)