By GILLIAN WONG
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese tax authorities have ordered “X-Men” star Fan Bingbing and companies she represents to pay taxes and penalties totaling $130 million, ending speculation over the fate of one of the country’s highest-profile entertainers three months after she disappeared from public view.
Of the total amount, Fan is being personally fined around $70 million for tax evasion, according to an Oct. 3 announcement carried by China’s official Xinhua News Agency, citing tax authorities.
Fan would not be investigated for criminal responsibility for tax evasion as long as the taxes, fines and late fees amounting to nearly $130 million are paid on time, the report said.
The announcement gave no indication of Fan’s whereabouts but indicated her agent is being held by police for allegedly obstructing the investigation.
Fan hasn’t been seen or heard from in public in any verifiable way for three months.
One of China’s wealthiest entertainers, Fan pulled down tens of millions of dollars for her roles, along with handsome sums in appearance fees and product endorsements. Some of those contracts may have landed her in hot water with the authorities.
Fan’s name has been mentioned in reports about a reportedly common entertainment industry practice — an actor having a public contract stating an official salary and a private contract detailing the true, much higher payday. A talk show host, Cui Yongyuan had said in May that Fan had such an arrangement — which allegedly helps facilitate tax evasion — and revealed details that sparked a public outcry. Cui later apologized.
At Fan’s management office in Beijing’s Dongcheng district, doors are locked, the lights are out and a calendar hanging alongside posters advertising Fan’s film appearances is still turned to July. A worker at an office across the hall said she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen anyone enter the company premises.
Fan turned 37 on Sept. 16, but only a handful of entertainment notables sent greetings online, a stark break from the past when her birthday celebrations were lavish, well-attended affairs, marked last year by a public marriage proposal from boyfriend Li Chen.
An automatic birthday greeting on her once-active account on Weibo, China’s main microblogging service, was apparently deleted by persons unknown.
Fan has starred in dozens of movies and TV series in China and is best known internationally for her role as Blink in 2014′s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” a cameo in the Chinese version of “Iron Man 3,” and star turns on the red carpet at Cannes as recently as May. Before her disappearance, she had been booked to star with Penelope Cruz in the Hollywood film “355.” She has a role in the upcoming Bruce Willis-Adrien Brody feature “Air Strike.”
Fan posted an apology on her official account on the social media site Weibo.com saying that she accepts the tax authorities’ decision and would “try my best to overcome all difficulties and raise funds to pay back taxes and fines.”
“I am unworthy of the trust of the society and let down the fans who love me,” she wrote in her first update of her Weibo.com microblog since June 2.
A man surnamed Liang, who identified himself as a staff member of Fan’s studio when reached by phone, refused to comment on the announcement or on Fan’s location.
Her disappearance coincided with a crackdown by the authorities on high salaries for actors that can eat up much of the cost of a production. In June, regulators capped star pay at 40 percent of a TV show’s entire production budget and 70 percent of the total paid to all the actors in a film.
Chinese state media said the investigation served as a warning to anyone working in the country’s arts and entertainment. A separate Xinhua report said the penalties issued to Fan would promote the “sustainable and healthy development of the film and television industry and raise social awareness on paying taxes according to the law.”
Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times tabloid known for its nationalist pro-Communist Party opinions, said, “Fan’s case must be shaking the performing arts world.”
People who try to evade taxes now will have to cough them up sooner or later, Hu wrote on his social media page. “The bigger the brand, the more likely you are to attract scrutiny. Just suffer this financial loss to be spared greater disaster, moreover these are ill-gotten gains.”
Known as a classical Chinese beauty with almond eyes and porcelain skin, Fan, 36, usually maintains a prominent presence on Weibo, where she has more than 62 million followers. Her account has been largely dormant for weeks, however, with a July 26 “like” about a posting on her charitable foundation being the last activity prior to the deletion of her birthday notice. Photos on social media also appear to show her visiting a pediatric cardiac ward at a Shanghai hospital for a charity event on July 1.
Fan’s disappearance has already taken a toll on her lucrative sideline as brand ambassador, throwing those companies’ plans into disarray. Australian vitamin brand Swisse issued a statement saying it was suspending use of her image and “continuing to monitor the situation and hope that it is resolved in the near future.”
British diamond giant De Beers, who signed with Fang just last year, appears to have already moved on: Another actress, Gao Yuanyuan, represented the company at a store opening in August in the ancient capital of Xi’an. Other firms she endorsed, from duty-free chain King Power to Louis Vuitton and Montblanc are also taking action.
“There’s a lot more risk for celebrities in China than in the United States, because the government takes much more of a moral crackdown,” said China Market Research’s Rein. “So there’s a greater risk for celebrities to get in trouble with the law and never be able to get a chance at redemption.”