BEIJING — Dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Tuesday that Chinese authorities have threatened to turn his company's tax case over to police if he does not meet a Wednesday deadline to pay $1.3 million, raising the prospect that he could be detained again over what he calls government harrassment.
Ai said officials from the Beijing tax bureau told his wife, Lu Qing, the legal representative of Ai's design firm, that they wanted a 8.5 million yuan ($1.3 million) guarantee paid into one of their bank accounts.
"They also clearly told us that if we exceeded this time period, they would transfer the case to the public security. There would be a different kind of outcome from that," Ai said in a phone interview.
Ai, an internationally acclaimed conceptual artist, was detained for nearly three months earlier this year during an overall crackdown on dissent. The tax bureau says his company owes 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in back taxes and fines, but human-rights activists say the investigation is punishment for Ai's criticism of the authoritarian government.
"It's very simple," Ai said. "Those in power have the right to do anything and their power faces no restrictions."
Supporters have sent Ai nearly 8.7 million yuan ($1.4 million), but Ai and his company's lawyers said transferring that money into the tax bureau's accounts could be seen as admitting guilt. Instead, the company wants to offer a certificate of deposit as collateral.
"This issue at this point is in a kind of deadlock," Ai said, though he said they would continue to negotiate.
A woman who answered the phone at the duty office of the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau referred the matter to the bureau's propaganda department, where the phone rang unanswered Tuesday.
If the case were to go to the police, Ai said, it was possible that the police would detain him, his wife and the company's manager and accountant.
"They have already clearly told me you can't argue with the government," he said. "If the government says you have evaded taxes, it will not change its view. By this point, it would be embarrassing for them. Even if they know it is illegal they will keep going on this path."
The donations Ai has received are rare for Chinese dissidents because of the threat of retaliation that comes with supporting high-profile government critics. In a commentary last week, the state-run Global Times newspaper cited unnamed experts as saying Ai could be suspected of "illegal fundraising."
Ai has said that he will not treat the money from supporters as donations, but as loans that he would repay.
The company's lawyers say authorities have not proven that Ai is the owner of the design firm or that he had evaded taxes.
Gillian Wong can be reached at http://twitter.com/gillianwong
(This version corrects jail to detention first paragraph.)