BEIJING: Chinese artist and fierce government critic Ai Weiwei said Friday he had lost an appeal against a multi-million-dollar fine for alleged tax evasion that he says is politically motivated.
Ai, who spent 81 days in secret detention last year as police rounded up dissidents amid online calls for Arab Spring-style protests in China, was barred from attending the Beijing Chaoyang court as the ruling was delivered.
Speaking at his studio in Beijing after receiving the news from his lawyer, the outspoken 54-year-old told reporters he was "very disappointed" by Friday's ruling -- which had been widely expected -- and would appeal it.
"China keeps telling other countries they are a rule of law country... But we only hope they implement the laws they themselves drew up," he said.
Ai, an internationally acclaimed artist whose works have been exhibited around the world, has accused China's Communist regime of seeking to "crush" him for his social activism.
On his release from detention last year he was accused of tax evasion linked to company Fake Cultural Development, and last November the Beijing tax bureau issued a bill for 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in alleged back taxes and penalties.
Ai, who denies the charge, was barred from attending the June 20 trial of the case due to a year-long bail period during which his movements were severely limited and police were permanently stationed outside his home.
The bail conditions expired last month, but he has been told he is still not allowed to leave the country -- meaning he has been unable to see his own exhibitions overseas.
On Friday police were stationed outside his home in Beijing and there was a heavy police presence outside the court, underscoring the sensitivity of the case. An AFP journalist was ordered to leave the area.
Fake argued at its appeal hearing last month that the Beijing tax bureau had acted illegally in fining the company.
But on Friday Ai said the court had "completely rejected (our arguments), reckoned that all that the tax bureau did had no problems. So our appeal has been rejected".
The ruling came as little surprise to Ai and his legal team, with the artist's lawyer Pu Zhiqiang telling AFP on Thursday he was "not holding out much hope" the appeal would succeed.
Friday's ruling comes eight months after Ai's lawyers handed $1.3 million in donations from his supporters to the Chinese authorities as a bond to clear the way for their appeal.
The money was raised from supporters who came from far and wide to help him raise cash, with some even throwing money over the walls into his courtyard home, including banknotes folded into paper planes.
Before his detention, the burly artist travelled extensively, holding exhibitions of his installations, sculptures and photographs in many countries around the world.
The value of his work has shot up since his detention thrust him into the global spotlight, and in October Britain's influential Art Review magazine named him the most powerful figure in the art world.
His latest high-profile piece of work is a pavilion for this year's London Olympics that he helped build with Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, with which he had previously collaborated to create Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium.
Ai contributed to the design of the pavilion at London's Serpentine Gallery, reportedly using Skype to coordinate with the company as he was unable to leave Beijing. AGENCIES