China rejects artist Weiwei's appeal on tax evasions

A Chinese court has rejected Ai Weiwei's appeal against a hefty fine for alleged tax evasion, the acclaimed artist and government critic said Thursday, adding angrily that he was blocked from presenting his case.

"No change in the original verdict," Ai told reporters outside the Beijing court where the ruling was issued.

"The court completely refused to respect the facts, they did not give us a chance to present our case and ignored the rights of the tax payer. No matter on questions of legal procedure or facts, they just refused to listen."

Ai, 55, had been seeking an open trial on the allegations of tax evasion by the company he founded, Fake Cultural Development, which had resulted in a US$2.4 million fine by the Beijing tax bureau last year.

The burly, wispy-bearded avant-garde artist, who denies the accusation, said the ruling by the intermediate court marked his last chance to contest the fine in court.

"The court acted shamelessly. I never, ever thought the court could ignore the facts in such a way and be so arbitrary. This makes me feel that the court is shameless," Ai said.

The son of a poet revered by China's early Communist leaders, Ai helped design the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Games, an event that brought worldwide prestige to the ruling Communist Party.

But the painter, sculptor, photographer and architect has since emerged as a fierce government critic, often through his prolific use of the internet and social media.

He has called the tax accusation an attempt by China's communist authorities to "crush" him for his activism.

His outspoken criticism of China's leaders - he has referred to them as "gangsters" - and involvement in sensitive social campaigns have since made him a thorn in the government's side.

He is known for tallying the number of schoolchildren killed in a 2008 earthquake, a taboo subject because many schools collapsed while other buildings did not, fuelling suspicion that government corruption led to shoddy construction.

Ai said police detained and beat him in 2009 to prevent him from testifying at the trial of another activist who investigated the issue, and later underwent surgery in Germany as a result of his injuries.

He was taken into custody for 81 days last year during a round-up of activists as popular revolts gathered force in the Middle East.

Upon his release he was accused of tax evasion and barred from leaving the country for one year.

His legal team have said they had new evidence for Thursday's retrial, the second and final appeal in his case against the Beijing tax bureau.

"There was never any hearing or deliberation. It was like the verdict was well prepared in advance," Ai said.

Ai has all along said he expected to lose the fight, saying China's judiciary was not independent.

Indignant supporters had earlier collected $1.3 million to pay the bond required to challenge the charge, with some even throwing money over the walls into his courtyard home.

The bond will be used to pay part of the $2.4 million fine, but Ai did not indicate whether or how he planned to repay the rest of the fine, nor did he make clear what his next move might be.

"As far as I understand, this is it. Anything else, I need to ask my lawyers," he said.

- AFP

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