By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is suing Beijing tax authorities for violating the law by imposing a 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) tax evasion penalty on the company he works for without allowing him access to evidence and witnesses, Ai said on Friday.
Supporters of Ai, whose 81-day detention last year sparked an international outcry, have said the tax case is part of the government's effort to muzzle China's most famous social critic.
Ai, 54, is urging a Beijing court to overturn the city tax office's rejection of his appeal against the tax evasion penalty imposed on the company he works for, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., which has helped produce his art and designs.
"In the handling of the whole process for Fake, some of their actions were illegal and violated regulations," Ai told Reuters by telephone, adding that he is waiting to hear whether the court would agree to hear the suit.
The company's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, told Reuters previously that authorities had not shown him any original documents with evidence of the alleged tax evasion and held a closed hearing last July.
Pu said it was illegal for them to do so. Ai was barred from attending the hearing, but his wife, Lu Qing, was present.
Ai said officials had also prevented the company's accountant and manager from communicating with Ai or his lawyer since the case began.
In late March, authorities told Ai he would not be get a public hearing on a reconsideration of the tax penalty. That decision, while legal, was "inconceivable" according to Ai, who has maintained that the case against him is politically motivated.
Ai paid a bond of 8.45 million yuan ($1.34 million) in November - contributed by about 30,000 supporters - that allowed him access to an administrative review of the tax evasion charges. He said at the time that he was pessimistic about successfully contesting the case.
Ai was detained without any charge in April 2011 and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release in June.
The bearded artist has been a persistent irritant to authorities and has ignored efforts to silence him, making use of Twitter to communicate with his supporters.
His case has become a rallying point for dissidents and activists under pressure since a government crackdown last year brought a wave of detentions and arrests.
Ai is a critic of the Communist Party and he has spoken out on a range of issues from the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo to Internet curbs.
When Ai was released on bail last June, the government said he remained under investigation on suspicion of unspecified economic crimes.
Ai told Reuters previously that he had not received a formal notice to explain the "suspected economic crimes".
($1 = 6.3073 yuan)
(Editing by Ken Wills and Robert Birsel)