Ai Weiwei accepts post at German university

14th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Thursday he had accepted a job at an art university in Germany, as he battles charges of massive tax evasion after nearly three months in police detention.

The 54-year-old -- an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party whose detention sparked an international outcry -- told AFP he was "very happy" about his new position at the Berlin University of the Arts.

"I hope to be able to contribute something important in the future," Ai said, adding however it was "not clear" when he would be able to leave China and go to Berlin.

The avant-garde artist, whose work was recently on display at London's Tate Modern gallery, was detained in April during a major government crackdown on dissidents in China.

The Berlin university offered Ai the teaching position soon after his detention, saying it "stood for the freedom of the arts and therefore for the freedom of artists."

Ai was only released on bail last month, and Chinese authorities have charged Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a design firm they say is "controlled" by Ai, with evading "a huge amount of taxes."

But lawyers for the firm say they do not accept the charges, as they have yet to see any of the original financial records that police seized from the company's office and are now using as evidence.

Ai's wife Lu Qing -- the firm's legal representative -- insists her husband has no legal responsibility for Fake. She attended a hearing on Thursday to try and get hold of the financial records.

"The evidence they brought was all copies of originals. We never saw the original documents," she said, adding the lawyers needed these before they could mount a proper defence against the charges.

Liu Xiaoyuan, Ai's close friend, told AFP last month that the Beijing tax office wanted the renowned artist to pay back 4.9 million yuan in taxes and another 7.3 million yuan in fines.

That would amount to more than 12 million yuan, or about $1.9 million. But Lu said she was unclear about the exact amount involved.

A spokeswoman for the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau told AFP she was unable to provide any information about the hearing as it was closed to the public.

Ai's outspoken criticism of China's leaders and involvement in controversial social campaigns -- such as a citizens' probe into school collapses in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake -- have long made him a thorn in the government's side.

In January, his newly built Shanghai studio was torn down in apparent retaliation for his criticism of city policies, and he was blocked from leaving China in December ahead of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo.

Ai already has strong ties to Germany. In March, shortly before his detention, he announced plans to set up a studio in Berlin to showcase his work.

He also underwent surgery in Germany after he said he was beaten by police in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan to prevent him from testifying on behalf of activist Tan Zuoren, who also investigated school collapses.

But since his release, the normally outspoken Ai has refused to talk to the media about his detention.

© 2011 AFP

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