Ai Weiwei’s Story Told in New Documentary Film

Filmmaker, Alison Klayman, has documented the life and work of Ai Weiwei in a film that premiered at Sundance this past weekend. Ai is known on this blog for his tax problems (“problems” that were likely invented by the Chinese government as a way to appear to incarcerate him for legitimate reasons), but is recognized around the world as one of China’s most outspoken dissidents.

“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” tells the story of Ai through exclusive interviews of the artist himself and those that are close to him. See a high quality preview of the film here: ai-weiwei-evolution-of-a-dissident.html.

“Individual freedom . . . independent thinking and expression . . . those are the core values of my activities.

~ Ai Weiwei

Ai often uses his art to make strong political statements. This is a man who knows he could be snatched up at any moment by Chinese authorities for his provocative art and opinions. He knows that his life (or death) is in the hands of the government he criticizes. His courage and ambition are inspiring.

Ai Weiwei’s Tax Case up for Reconsideration

Our political activist / artist friend, Ai Weiwei, is in the news again today fighting for his own personal tax relief and the broader agenda of pursuing justice for his fellow countrymen.

The Beijing Local Taxation Bureau has agreed to hear his appeal of a $2.4 million tax bill and fine for alleged tax evasion. They informed him the process would take no more than two months.

The IRS should take note of this.  Chinese tax authorities gave themselves a deadline, a very reasonable deadline!  Ok, but let’s not get overly excited about this.  Will they follow through on this self-imposed deadline?  And even if they do act quickly, is a speedy & oppressive ruling any better than the slow churning of the IRS?  In other words, is this case being reviewed just to appease Ai and other government opposition?

Everyone will be watching closely for any missteps in the process.  Ai for himself definitely sees his appeal as something grand and symbolic:

How they handle this relates to issues of China’s rule of law and the safety of its people. It has very broad implications. If they can’t resolve this issue very fairly and carefully, it will bring harm to this society’s justice system.

Weiwei “Lawyered Up” to Challenge Tax Bill

Ai Weiwei is ready to pony up the cash (8.5 million yuan) to the Chinese tax authorities, but they are not in agreement over the method of payment. According to Weiwei’s lawyer, the law dictates that they must guarantee the funds before they can dispute the assessment, but they have to be careful that the way they do it does not admit liability. They would prefer to provide the government with a bank deposit certificate and hold the funds in Weiwei’s account. The government, of course, wants the money wired directly to them. Full story here.

Weiwei is no idiot.  He has reason to be concerned with wiring the tax authorities the payment, which amounts to $1.3 million. In the United States if your hard-earned money somehow finds its way into IRS coffers (by way of bank levy or wage garnishment), it is significantly more difficult to get it back than if it was never collected in the first place. No comment, by the way, on whether or not the funds earmarked for Weiwei’s tax debt were hard-earned given the fact that it was gifted to him by many of his political allies. I’m sure if Weiwei were to pay them the amount in dispute, and then win his tax case, getting that money back would be a procedural nightmare for his attorney.

The Weiwei Tax Relief Fund

Last week we learned about outspoken Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, and his tax problems. Today the news from China is that Weiwei’s supporters are pooling their money to the tune of $800,000 (and rising) to help him pay what he owes.

Weiwei certainly has the money to pay his tax bill, so what’s the motivation behind these donations? Are these wealthy art collectors who don’t want their Weiwei pieces to lose value? Unlikely. This is an artist who is known and adored for controversy; refusal to pay the government will probably only increase his popularity and increase the value of his work. Also, wealthy collectors would probably not make airplanes out of money and toss it over the gate to Weiwei’s home. Certainly some of the donations are coming from the wealthy and politically connected. However, it is clear that many of the donations are from average Chinese protestors who are symbolically “casting their vote” according to Weiwei.

It’s probably only a matter of time before a high-profile tax protestor in the Unites States pulls some publicity stunt designed to lure like-minded citizens to vote with their checkbooks like they have done in China. Good luck getting that to work here though.

Prominent Chinese Artist Hit with Enormous Tax Bill

The Beijing Local Taxation Bureau says internationally known artist, Mr. Ai Weiwei, owes $2.36 million in back taxes and he has 10 days to pay it.

Weiwei will probably pay the bill in the end (he says he has the means to pay it), but he wants to be sure that the government is applying the law correctly.  Somehow I doubt there is much of an appeal process in China, and I would hate to see what might happen if he doesn’t make good after the 10 days have elapsed.

Weiwei is known for speaking out publicly against the Chinese government and the social problems of his homeland.  He was held by authorities for 81 days earlier this year without any formal charges, which leads Weiwei and others to suspect that the Chinese government wants to silence him one way or another.  Some may see the taxes as a side issue, and just a convenient way for the government to put him away.  We have certainly seen this scenario played out in the Unites States as well.  See full story here.

Taxes Around the World

Some international tax news today. China is doling out tax relief to the poor by increasing the income threshold for workers who are required to pay taxes.  Those earning less than $540/mo. are exempt from income taxes now, whereas the threshold used to be $300/mo. This change will affect approximately $60 million people. Meanwhile, in Portugal the government announced extra taxes this year to help lower the nation’s debt. And Switzerland is raising taxes for rich foreigners.