BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei paid a bond of 8.45 million yuan ($1.3 million) on Tuesday, paving the way to file what he fears may be an ultimately futile appeal on a tax evasion charge.
Supporters of Ai, whose 81-day secret detention earlier this 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, 54, paid the bond, all of it raised by his supporters, into a tax bureau bank account on Tuesday afternoon to cover what the government says he owes in back taxes and late payments. It does not include a fine of about 6.6 million yuan.
But Ai said he remains pessimistic about successfully contesting the charge of tax evasion, and the combined bill of 15 million yuan ($2.4 million).
“The whole procedure, up till today, every step has been illegal and unreasonable,” Ai told Reuters in an interview, shortly after he had paid the bond.
“There’s been no explanation, so it’s very hard for us to expect that our appeal for an administrative review will have a reasonable answer.”
“Even if I’ve paid the money, they can even stop the process for an appeal for an administrative review. Even if I’ve applied for an administrative review, they can ignore me,” Ai said. “So we harbour no hopes. The only thing we can do now is bring this matter into the open, so the public can see.”
Ai said he will not pay the remaining 6.6 million in fines now because that would be a tacit admission of guilt before the appeal ends, which could take months.
Ai’s lawyer told Reuters on Monday that the government’s demand that Ai pay the bond into a tax bureau account lacked legal provision.
Ai was detained without any charge in early April and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release in late June.
But the bearded and burly 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 early this year brought a wave of detentions and arrests.
Ai likened the tax evasion case to a one-sided soccer game, with the public watching him play against the government.
“You know that you won’t win because you’re one person playing against an entire team,” he said. “But sometimes their skills are not good, they could kick the ball to the opposing team. For example, with the public’s contributions — they didn’t anticipate that there would be such a scenario.”
Ai said his mother, Gao Ying, does not know that he has paid the bond and will be furious if she hears it, adding that “she will think, ‘what an insult’.”
Ai says authorities have not shown him evidence of the alleged tax evasion and told the manager and accountant of Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., which is the company accused of evading taxes, not to meet him.
Ai repeated, however, that he is fighting the tax charge because his wife, Lu Qing, who is the firm’s legal representative, could face a jail term.
Ai said that the tax authorities should acknowledge receipt of the bond payment, either later today or tomorrow. Ai had collected more than 9 million yuan, he says he will return, from about 30,000 donors with money still coming in despite an appeal to stop contributions.
Ai said he believes his ordeal is far from over.
“From the beginning, why did they do all this? It’s obviously not because of money, they want to achieve a political motive,” Ai said. “They want people to believe I’m a tax evader, that I’m a liar or whatever.”
“Because of this matter, it’s caused society to increase its distrust in government, its distrust in law, distrust in government power, distrust in state organs. Who, in this issue, is the liar? Who is the one who doesn’t dare to discuss this matter openly?”
($1 = 6.354 Chinese yuan)
Editing by Ken Wills and Ed Lane