Credit Suisse has said it will shut down a Swiss bank account belonging to dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s foundation, citing his “criminal record” in China, although he has never been convicted of a crime, according to Ai.
In a Sept. 7 post to Artnet, Ai said he had received a “surprising notice” from Credit Suisse, informing him that it was terminating the account of his Fart Foundation, which he set up to support free speech.
“They did this, they wrote, in accordance with a new policy of closing all accounts with people who have had criminal records,” Ai wrote, in a post translated by China scholar Perry Link.
“They believed (or pretended to believe?) that I had been convicted of a crime in China,” he said. “Just a bit of homework could have shown them that I was never formally charged, let alone convicted of a crime.”
“When the Beijing regime detained me and smeared my name, it was only applying its normal techniques of persecuting political opponents,” Ai said.
Ai told RFA in an interview on Wednesday that the bank had cited “new rules” leading to the decision.
“This is, of course, absurd,” he said. “I said that if they had done the most basic investigation, they would have seen that I was never formally arrested nor prosecuted.”
Ai was detained incommunicado for about three months in 2011 but not charged, although the Chinese authorities later hit his company with a U.S.$2.4 million tax bill.
He ran afoul of authorities for outspoken commentary on government scandals, including shoddy school construction and corruption that contributed to the deaths of thousands of students in a massive earthquake in Sichuan Province in 2008.
Appeasing the Party
He told RFA that he believes the move was instead driven by a desire to appease the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in the hope of boosting its market share in China.
“The relationship between an individual and those in power is the same the world over; it’s just a matter of degree,” he said. “[It depends how] shameless people are prepared to be; some are more prepared to be shameless than others.”
Ai said he had also been warned by another Swiss bank, UBS, that it would shut down his account after he gave an interview to a Swiss media organization in which he criticized the country’s anti-immigration policies.
Ai said he has no wish to continue to use UBS’ services, whether or not the bank withdraws its original decision.
U.K.-based author Ma Jian said Western banks shouldn’t support the CCP, nor do its bidding.
“It’s possible that the Chinese government told Credit Suisse to do this to Ai Weiwei as a way of controlling him,” Ma said.
“The whole Western financial system is basically unethical when it comes to making money in China, and there is collusion between politics and business for their own benefit,” he said.
“Globalization has brought a lot of opportunities to the CCP, and where economic activity goes, politics will soon follow,” Ma said.
Looking to expand
In his article, Ai said Credit Suisse was likely looking to expand in China, hoping to triple their number of employees in the country within the next five years.
“In China and elsewhere, political connections are the fuel of the economic colonialism that occupies the core of today’s surging globalization,” Ai said.
“In China’s state capitalism, high officials enjoy unchecked power and wield it in an environment totally empty of democratic supervision.”
He said no foreign country can do business in China without the backing of the country’s political and financial elite, known as the “princelings.”
He said the further danger is that Western cultural institutions want to attract Chinese money.
“This marks the final triumph of cultural globalization,” Ai wrote.
“We think of war as invasive and bloody, but cultural invasion and war, fought with invisible gunpowder and producing odorless gore, is in fact just as cruel and unscrupulous.”
Last year Reuters reported that global wealth managers, including Credit Suisse, were examining whether their clients in Hong Kong had ties to the city’s pro-democracy movement, in an attempt to avoid getting caught in the crosshairs of China’s draconian national security law.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.