(AP) -- A company lawyer for dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Monday that Chinese tax authorities are hindering efforts to pay a financial guarantee enabling the company to fight a huge tax bill that he says is government harassment.
Ai, an internationally acclaimed conceptual artist, was detained for nearly three months earlier this year during an overall crackdown on dissent. The detention and subsequent claims of tax evasion have been interpreted by activists as a way to punish him for his outspoken criticism of the authoritarian government.
The Beijing tax bureau is demanding that Ai's design company Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. pay 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in back taxes and fines.
In order to fight the allegation, Fake Cultural must pay a guarantee, or deposit, of more than 8 million yuan ($1.3 million) by Wednesday to obtain an administrative review of the case.
The company can easily pay that as Ai's supporters have sent him nearly 8.69 million yuan ($1.4 million) to help pay the guarantee.
But Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer for Fake Cultural, said the tax bureau told them Monday that it would not accept the guarantee in the form the parties had originally agreed on.
Pu told reporters that the tax bureau wanted the money paid into one of its accounts, while Fake Cultural wanted to buy a certificate of deposit instead.
Pu said the company wants to fight the tax evasion allegation, and to do that it cannot show in any way that it is admitting guilt.
He said he is worried that paying the money into a tax bureau account could be seen as an admission of guilt, and that even if they win the appeal, "I worry that getting the money back will be difficult."
A call to the propaganda office of the Beijing tax office rang unanswered Monday.
Pu said the case was political, "a persecution that has been caused by the political background."
He urged "the administrative organ to implement the law normally, (and) stop acting foolishly."
Ai's supporters have sent money through wire transfers or thrown cash stuffed in envelopes or wrapped around fruit into his yard. The donation campaign is rare for Chinese dissidents because of the threat of retaliation that comes with supporting high-profile government critics.
Du Yanlin, the company's tax attorney, said authorities have not proven that Ai is the owner of the company or that he had evaded taxes. Ai's wife, Lu Qing, is the legal representative of the design company.
Ai has said that he will not treat the money from supporters as donations, but as loans that he would repay.
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