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Detained Chinese Artist 'Suspected of Tax Evasion'

Artist Ai Weiwei arrives at the Wenyuhe court to support fellow artist Wu Yuren during his trial in Beijing, November 17, 2010 (file photo)

Pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong say a prominent Chinese artist who disappeared earlier this month is suspected of tax evasion and destroying evidence.

The Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao newspapers quoted sources Thursday as saying Chinese authorities suspect Ai Weiwei of evading a huge amount of tax, and of destroying documents that could be used as evidence against him.

The internationally renowned artist designed the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium in Beijing that was a centerpiece of the 2008 summer games. His whereabouts have been unknown since April 3, when he was detained at Beijing's airport while trying to board a flight to Hong Kong.

The newspapers say Ai, a strong critic of China's Communist government, initially refused to cooperate with police, but subsequently has been answering investigators' questions. According to the sources, Ai also is accused of having a young son with a woman who is not his wife, and of posting pornographic material on the Internet.

Gao Ge, sister of dissident artist Ai Weiwei, outside the family home in Beijing, China, April 14, 2011
Gao Ge, sister of dissident artist Ai Weiwei, outside the family home in Beijing, China, April 14, 2011

Ai's sister, Gao Ge, told a reporter the supposed accusations are "comical." She said Ai married his wife, Lu Qing, in the United States, but did not register the union in China. Gao said her brother has a child with another woman, but the arrangement is open and amicable.

Gao also said the pornography allegation against Ai apparently refers to a seminude photograph of himself that he posted online [in which he holds a plush toy in front of his genitals].

Ai has criticized Chinese authorities for their handling of several national scandals. Among these were shoddy construction practices that resulted in the death of many children in collapsed schools during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Ai also spoke out about the extensive casualties suffered by Chinese children and infants when illegally adulterated milk powder was sold by producers trying to evade health regulations.

The United States, European Union, Australia and Taiwan have condemned Ai's arrest. China has rejected the condemnations as an attack on its social values and legal system.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.