Ai Weiwei calls tax battle 'opportunity' to expose China

Ai Weiwei calls tax battle 'opportunity' to expose China

Ai, 54, was held earlier this year as part of a widespread crackdown on rights activism in China and accused of tax evasion on a massive scale after he was released in June -- a charge he says is politically motivated.

"We can use this as a chance to make the world understand what kind of system they are working with," Ai told AFP as he prepared to challenge the bill for 15 million yuan (USD 2.4 million) in alleged unpaid taxes.

"This is a real opportunity," he said, adding that the sums involved were unimportant "compared to the kind of social achievement it will have".

Yesterday Ai's lawyers said they had handed USD 1.3 million in donations from his supporters to the Chinese authorities as a bond to clear the way for an appeal.

The money was raised from supporters who came from far and wide to help him raise cash, some even throwing money over the walls into his courtyard home, including banknotes folded into paper planes.

Total donations had reached 8.69 million yuan (USD 1.4 million) by Sunday night, when the appeal closed, and Ai said the generosity of the Chinese people had made him realise that he was "not alone" in his struggle.

"So far, I am still in very good spirits because all the money has come from donations," Ai told AFP by telephone as he headed to the tax office to sign an agreement that the money can be used as collateral by the authorities.

Chinese tax authorities have repeatedly refused AFP's requests for comment on Ai's case, which is particularly complicated because the company involved in the tax evasion charge is owned by his wife and not him.

He has said he will pay back his supporters once the case is over, and was initially reluctant to hand over the money raised to Chinese authorities for fear that it would not be returned to him.

Ai is known for his often irreverent art and for tallying the children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, shining an unflattering light on officials who some accused of covering up the role shoddy housing played in the deaths.

A prolific user of Twitter and other social media, he told AFP he had had little time recently for his regular work, but that he considered his fight against the government to be an extension of his artistic endeavours.

"I think this is my artwork. My artwork is about communication and expressing my social concern," he said.