£1.48m tax bill is 'revenge for dissent', says artist Ai Weiwei

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The Independent Online

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained by the government for nearly three months this year, has been handed a £1.48m tax bill in what he says is revenge for his dissenting views.

The new demand from the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau for the 15 million yuan arrived yesterday, following a similar notice in June. He said he had been given 15 days to make the payment, or face returning to jail.

"Even at the beginning I told them it's not smart, as it only lowers the government's credibility to use a crime like this as revenge, or as a punishment of people who hold different views from them," the 54-year-old artist told The Independent. "It only makes them look bad. It seems they never learn, they need to justify their action in arresting me."

His disappearance in April caused outcry among artists, politicians and activists, who said he was being punished for speaking out against the Communist Party. Rights activists say the tax evasion charges are trumped up and merely a pretext for taking Mr Ai out of circulation.

"I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a businessman," said Mr Ai. "After I was released I realised that all my papers and books have been taken away. My accountant and manager cannot come to see me, because the police are harassing them. So I am being kept in the unknown."

Mr Ai, who has held exhibitions in London, New York and Berlin, has said he will pay any outstanding taxes if this is indeed a genuine tax bill. He also asked for police to return his account books and allow him to meet his office manager and accountant.