China’s highest-earning actress Fan Bingbing has been ordered to pay nearly 884 million yuan (US$129 million) for tax evasion and other offences but could escape criminal prosecution, the country’s tax authorities announced on Wednesday, over three months after the film star disappeared from public view.
Fan, whose disappearance has drawn global attention, was released from “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of secret detention – about two weeks ago and returned to Beijing as the tax authorities completed their investigation, sources with knowledge of her case told the South China Morning Post.
A source said Fan had been kept in a “holiday resort” used to investigate officials, in a suburb in the coastal province of Jiangsu. Although she might still be questioned for other related investigations, according to the source, she was no longer under detention, a separate source familiar with the case said.
The 37-year-old, who gained international fame from the X-Men and Iron Man film franchises, had underpaid more than 255 million yuan in taxes, including close to 200 million yuan classed as tax evasion, according to Xinhua.
She and her companies were ordered to pay the unpaid taxes, and fined about 600 million yuan.
The actress was found to have used so-called yin-yang contracts – one setting out the real agreed payment terms and a second showing a lower figure for the tax authorities – to dodge taxes when acting in Unbreakable Spirit, the war action film known outside China as Air Strike and also starring Bruce Willis.
The State Administration of Taxation said that as a first-time offender she would not face criminal charges if she paid all of the money by an undisclosed deadline, Xinhua reported.
After the announcement, Fan issued an apology letter on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, where she has more than 62 million followers.
“I have experienced unprecedented pain and agony in recent months,” she wrote. “I have reflected on my action. I am ashamed of what I have done, and I deeply regretted my action. I apologise sincerely to everyone.”
Fan said she fully accepted the punishment by the authorities and would pay the tax bill.
A familiar face of film, television and luxury goods in China, Fan is the highest-earning celebrity on the mainland with an income of 300 million yuan last year, according to the 2017 Forbes China Celebrity List. The only Chinese celebrity who earned more than her was Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan, who earned 330 million yuan.
According to Forbes, Fan earned 1.4 billion yuan between 2003 and 2016.
Meanwhile, Fan’s agent had been detained by police for further investigation for allegedly destroying or hiding accounting records, the report said.