BEIJING — Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's design firm on Wednesday challenged the $1.85 million tax bill delivered by authorities shortly after Mr. Ai was released from nearly three months in detention, a lawyer for the company said.
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said an appeal was filed with the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau by Mr. Ai's wife, Lu Qing. She is the legal representative of his design company Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.
The appeal demands proof of the alleged tax evasion and a review of the case, Mr. Pu said. Mr. Ai's family previously denied he evaded any taxes, and activists say the accusations were a pretext for detaining Mr. Ai, who spoke out against the authoritarian government.
During Mr. Ai's detention, authorities seized accounting records and other items that have yet to be returned, which means the company has no way of checking the allegations, Mr. Pu said.
"Also, the allegations in the document are very general, they don't say which year or years the tax violations occurred or whether the tax evaded was corporate tax, income tax, or something else," Mr. Pu said.
Calls to the local tax office in Chaoyang district, where Mr. Ai's studio is located, rang unanswered Wednesday.
Chinese authorities previously have said Mr. Ai was released after he confessed to tax evasion and pledged to repay the money owed.
Tax officials visited Mr. Ai's studio on Monday to inform him the company owed $770,000 in back taxes from the last decade and $1.1 million in fines. Mr. Ai refused to sign the documents and was told he had three days to appeal, his mother, Gao Ying, said Tuesday.
Mr. Ai is internationally known and has earned huge sums selling his work at auctions and through galleries. In February, a 100-kilogram pile of handmade porcelain sunflower seeds he commissioned for a show in London sold for more than $550,000 at a Sotheby's auction.
Mr. Ai was detained April 3 after disappearing from the Beijing airport and was released June 22. He has declined interviews since then, saying the terms of his bail prohibit it.
Chinese authorities have said that although Mr. Ai was released, he is technically still under investigation for at least a year and could be brought in for further questioning at any time.
It was not immediately clear how the appeal would affect the government's handling of his case, or whether he could be taken into custody again if he refuses to pay the money allegedly owed.
Chinese authorities have tried to silence other critics by accusing them of tax violations or other nonpolitical crimes.
Zhao Yan, a news assistant for The New York Times, was jailed for three years in 2007 on charges of financial fraud. Xu Zhiyong, an outspoken lawyer, was investigated for alleged tax evasion in 2009 but later released.
Mr. Ai's family and supporters say he is being punished for his critical views of the Communist leadership and social problems. Before his own detention, he tracked other cases of detained activists in a recent widespread crackdown by the government.
He had spoken out fearlessly about a number of national scandals, including the deaths of students in shoddily built schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, children killed or sickened by tainted infant formula and a deadly high-rise fire in Shanghai that killed 58 people and was blamed on negligent workers and corrupt inspectors.
Associated Press writer Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.