BEIJING, April 7 (Reuters) – Chinese police said the detained artist and activist Ai Weiwei is being investigated for “suspected economic crimes”, while his family said on Thursday he was the victim of a political crackdown also decried by the departing U.S. ambassador.
“Police said late Wednesday they are investigating Ai Weiwei for suspected economic crimes in accordance with the law,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a brief dispatch issued on Wednesday just before midnight.
The report that Ai may be under police investigation for economic crimes, which could cover charges such as tax evasion, is unlikely to still the uproar his case has sparked, with human rights groups and Western governments calling him a target of China’s campaign to stifle dissent.
The burly, bearded Ai (pronounced “eye”) had a hand in designing the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and has juggled a prominent international art career with colourful campaigns against government censorship and political restrictions, often using the Internet.
Xinhua gave no other details of the allegations against Ai, who was stopped on Sunday from boarding a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong and taken away by border police, sparking condemnation from Western governments and Chinese human rights campaigners.
He has not contacted his family since then.
“The economic crimes report is absurd, because the way he was taken and then disappeared shows it’s nothing of the sort,” Ai’s older sister, Gao Ge, told Reuters by telephone.
“This is more like a crime gang’s behavior than a country with laws,” she said.