Beijing tax authorities are seeking nearly $2 million in back taxes and fines from outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was released last week from nearly three months in detention. Before his release, Ai confessed to tax evasion and pledged to repay the money owed, Chinese authorities said. Ai is barred from speaking publicly, but friends and family say the tax charges are just a ruse to keep him under wraps.
The Beijing Local Taxation Bureau informed Ai that he owed around $770,000 in unpaid taxes and would be fined about $1.1 million—totaling just over $1.85 million, said a Beijing human rights lawyer. Ai's mother, Gao Ying, said two tax bureau officials delivered the notice to Ai yesterday and asked him to sign it in acknowledgement, but he refused. He might just have the money: Ai, who has shown his work in London, New York and Berlin, has earned huge sums selling his work at auctions and through galleries.