Outspoken artist Ai Weiwei said Tuesday that Chinese authorities are now seeking $2.4 million in back taxes and fines from him, a sign that the government is not easing pressure on the dissident who was detained for nearly three months this year.
Two officials from the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau delivered a notice to the artist Tuesday saying he owed just over $2.38 million Cdn in back taxes and fines, Ai said in a phone interview. He had been served a tax notice in June for a slightly smaller amount.
Ai said Tuesday that he would not pay until police return his Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. design company's account books and he discusses the matter with his former office manager and accountant, whom he says he has not been allowed to see.
"We can pay this money, but we need to know why we have to," he said. "We cannot just unwittingly hand over a sum of money. This would be irresponsible toward the country."
Ai said he refused to accept Tuesday's notice, which said he must pay the amount owed within about 10 days, or face unspecified further measures.
Ai's detention earlier this year prompted an international outcry among artists, politicians and human rights activists, and Western leaders called it a sign of China's deteriorating human rights situation. His family and supporters say he is being punished for speaking out about the Communist leadership and social problems.
Ai was released in June after spending nearly three months in secret detention without being charged. Ai's family previously denied he evaded any taxes, and activists say the accusations were a false premise for detaining him. Before his own detention, he tracked the detention of other activists.
After Ai's release, the Beijing tax bureau tried to serve him a notice seeking about $1.86 million, but representatives of the design firm challenged the bill and were told by Chinese officials that the company had not paid corporate taxes for a decade. Police also raided his studio, taking away the firm's books.
"Accounts for tax purposes should be investigated by the tax bureau, not the police. And police should not be taking me away to a place that no one knows for 81 days to investigate taxes," Ai said Tuesday.
Ai said that the issue was larger than himself and that he hoped to see Chinese authorities properly implement the laws of the country.
"I feel that a government or country must enforce laws in a clear and clean way," he said. "This will protect the law. If you want to hurt one person, to hurt me, that's all right, but what you're doing is hurting the law. When you hurt the law, it hurts the country and everybody in it."
Ai, who has shown his work in London, New York and Berlin, has earned huge sums selling his art at auctions and through galleries.