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Politics

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing hit with $130m tax bill

A-list star breaks her silence and apologizes for dodging taxes

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing topped Forbes' China celebrity rich list last year.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Fan Bingbing, one of the world's highest paid actresses, has been ordered to pay nearly 892 million yuan (about $130 million) in fines and back taxes, Chinese state media reported on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old has appeared in the "X-Men" and "Iron Man" film franchises but has been out of the public eye for three months now.

Fan will be spared of criminal liability if she makes the payment within a prescribed period, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The hefty penalties come as Beijing escalates its drive to "purify" the entertainment sector so that it aligns with China's socialist values. The State Taxation bureau has vowed to go after celebrities who have misreported their salaries. It has ordered entertainers to audit themselves and to pay any back taxes they have evaded by December if they wish to avoid further fines, the report said.

Fan, who last year topped Forbes' China celebrity rich list with earnings of 300 million yuan, is the most high-profile figure targeted by the purification campaign so far. The Xinhua report said tax authorities have informed Fan about the penalty and that Fan did not request a court hearing.

China's tax authorities launched their investigation of Fan in June, after Cui Yongyuan, a former broadcaster for state-run China Central Television, alleged on social media that Fan underreported her income through a "yin yang" contract, which enabled her to have only part of her income taxed.

The A-list star has remained silent online since a blog post that month and has made no public appearances since July.

On Tuesday, Fan broke her silence and issued an apology letter on Weibo, China's Twitter, admitting that she had evaded taxes. This reversed an announcement issued by her office in June, saying Fan had never signed a yin-yang contract.

"I feel ashamed and deeply sorry for what I have done," she wrote. Fan said she "completely accepts" the final decisions made by tax authorities and vowed to make all efforts to pay the back taxes and fines.

Fan's disappearance drew global attention. Sources with knowledge of the situation told the South China Morning Post that Fan was released from "residential surveillance at a designated location" -- a form of secret detention -- about two weeks ago. She then returned to Beijing as the tax authorities completed their investigation. She could face further questioning, the Post reported.

Fan had been at a suburban "holiday resort" in coastal Jiangsu Province, where officials are often kept while they are under investigation, the source said.

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