That the Chinese government is holding artist Ai Weiwei for tax fraud, related to his company Fake Design, is especially ominous for a number of reasons.
First is that until recently tax fraud was a significant trigger of the death penalty in China. According to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, Ai is accused of not only "massive tax evasions," but also "destruction of documents," code for a charge of systematic fraud that could yield the ultimate penalty for Ai and his associates. The complexity of the Chinese tax system, which includes a Value Added Tax and a wide range of Stamp Taxes, makes proof of fraud, if only for inadvertent negligence, especially easy.
Secondly, charging Ai is an easy way to divide and conquer his associates into testifying against him or engage in special pleading on their own, or his, behalf. Already, Weiwei's sister Gao Ge has publicly stated that because Ai was not an officer of Fake Design that he has no accountability for the tax charges, however bogus. This is a dangerous gambit, as the Chinese authorities have already "disappeared" four of Weiwei's associates, including journalist Wen Tao, whose family is arguing that he had no formal connection to Fake Design and thus should not be charged.
Thirdly, tax charges are an easy way for the ChiComs to scapegoat Ai and his associates to the Chinese people. Already, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has issued a statement that "the Chinese people do not like Ai Weiwei," an oddly personal yet deadly expression of the prized conformity with which the Chinese government unjustly characterizes its own people.
Finally tax fraud offers the Chinese government an easy way to denounce those abroad calling for Weiwei's release, as it already has vociferously, for "meddling in internal affairs," and to put companies doing business with China on notice that they too could be targeted on tax charges for speaking out on human rights in China. There is grumbling about Weiwei among the art elites, exemplified by curator Francesco Bonami's statement last December in Italian Il Reformista (before the current charges) the Chinese government had "finally" taken action against Ai.
This exasperation with Weiwei (called by a friend of mine "Oy Vey Vey") is far more prevalent among the art elites, whose business is inherently antidemocratic, than one might first suspect. Therefore, it is incumbent that a leader of art commerce should speak out and take concrete actions, tailored to the trumped up tax accusations against Ai. I respectfully call on Pace Gallery chairman Arne Glimcher, a man quite familiar, through his family history, of the lethal actions promulgated by fascist governments, whose art operations have been at the vanguard of the Chinese contemporary art scene, to direct Pace not to pay any taxes to the Chinese government until Ai Weiwei and his associates are freed and the charges against them permanently dropped.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).