China's Ai Weiwei: hit with $2.4 million tax bill, now illegal fundraising?

Since Chinese authorities slapped dissident Ai Weiwei with a $2.4 million tax bill, donations have poured in from thousands of supporters. Now, China may charge Weiwei with illegal fundraising.

By , Staff writer

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    Commemorative ceramic seeds from Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei's "Sunflower Seeds" art installation are prepared in packets to send to people who contribute money to him, in Beijing, Monday.
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An official Chinese newspaper suggested Monday that prominent dissident artist Ai Weiwei might be guilty of illegal fundraising, as money poured in to help him pay a $2.4 million tax bill due later this week.

Individual supporters had come up with $840,000 by early afternoon Monday, Mr. Ai announced on his Twitter account. He and his supporters believe the charge of tax evasion the police brought is only cover for political persecution.

The money was rolling in Monday, despite the forced closure last Friday night of Ai’s account on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like site freely accessible to anyone on the Chinese Internet. The company, like all Internet firms here, has come under increasing government pressure, and was one of more than 30 firms that promised at a recent meeting to prevent the spread of “harmful information” on its site, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

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Ai is now communicating via Twitter and Google+, neither of which are accessible in China without special censorship-evading software.

Donors were sending money by bank and post office transfer, through an Internet payment mechanism, and delivering it in person to Ai’s Beijing studio. Some had folded bills into paper airplanes and flown them over his studio wall, supporters said.

The Global Times, a daily newspaper owned by the ruling Communist party, said in its English language edition Monday that “this could be an example of illegal fund raising.”

Ai insisted in a Google+ post Monday that he “will definitely return every penny” he has been loaned and warned lenders that their loans “will not bear any interest.” 

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