Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) said yesterday 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 — said 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 that 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, was detained in April during a major government crackdown on dissidents.
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.”
However, lawyers for the firm say they do not accept the charges because they have yet to see any of the original financial records that police seized from the company’s offices and are now using as evidence.
Ai’s wife Lu Qing (路青) — the firm’s legal representative — insists her husband has no legal responsibility for Fake. She attended a hearing yesterday 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 that the lawyers needed these before they could mount a proper defense against the charges.
Liu Xiaoyuan (劉曉原), Ai’s close friend, said last month that the Beijing tax office wanted the artist to pay 4.9 million yuan (US759,000) in taxes and another 7.3 million yuan in fines.
Ai’s outspoken criticism of China’s leaders and his 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 (劉曉波).
Ai already has strong ties to Germany. In March, 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 Sichuan Province.