Hidden details of actress Fan Bingbing’s mysterious lost months

Tuesday - 16/04/2019 19:43
Actress Fan Bingbing’s disappearance shocked the world — but it could be just the tip of the iceberg as the Chinese government cracks down on tax evasion. Picture: Gareth Cattermole/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Actress Fan Bingbing’s disappearance shocked the world — but it could be just the tip of the iceberg as the Chinese government cracks down on tax evasion. Picture: Gareth Cattermole/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Fans were stunned when one of the world’s biggest movie stars vanished for three months last year. Here’s what really happened.

Fan Bingbing may not be a household name in the West, but she’s one of the biggest — and best paid — superstars on the planet.

The 37-year-old has been a stalwart of the Chinese film industry for two decades and has appeared in dozens of local and international flicks, including Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

During her glittering career, she has amassed a cult-like following, thanks to her creative talent, legendary beauty and tireless work ethic.

But in July last year, one of the world’s most famous women simply vanished.

THE DISAPPEARANCE

In May 2018, well-known former Chinese TV presenter Cui Yongyuan seemed to subtly implicate Fan in tax evasion after sharing two contracts for one of her upcoming movies.

One reportedly showed a $US1.6 million ($A2.2 million) salary to be reported to the tax authorities, while the second revealed an actual payment of $US7.8 million ($A10.9 million), although Fan’s name wasn’t specifically mentioned.
 

For three months, there was no trace of Chinese moviestar Fan Bingbing. Picture: John Phillips/Getty Images
For three months, there was no trace of Chinese moviestar Fan Bingbing. Picture: John Phillips/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

 

Dual contracts, known as “yin and yang” contracts, are apparently rife in the Chinese film industry as a tool for avoiding taxes, and the scandal prompted the government to investigate and crack down on violations.

Fan’s last public appearance was on July 1 that year when she visited a children’s hospital, while her last post on Weibo — the Chinese equivalent of Twitter — was on July 23.

For months, Fan was neither seen nor heard about, with speculation about her welfare running wild.

THE APOLOGY

Finally, on October 3, Fan abruptly reappeared by issuing a grovelling apology to her family, fans and country in an official statement.

“I feel ashamed that I committed tax evasion in Unbreakable Spirit (also known as Air Strike) and other projects by taking advantage of split contracts,” the statement read.

“Throughout these days of my co-operation with the taxation authorities’ investigation of my accounts as well as my company’s, I have realised that, as a public figure, I should’ve observed the law, setting a good example for society and the industry.

“I shouldn’t have lost my ability to govern myself in the face of economic interests, leading myself to break the law.
 

The 37-year-old starred alongside Hugh Jackman in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
The 37-year-old starred alongside Hugh Jackman in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

 

“Here I sincerely apologise to society, friends who care about me, the public and the taxation authorities.

“I completely accept the penalties given by the taxation authorities after their thorough investigation. I will follow the final order given by the taxation authorities and will do my best to raise funds to pay back the taxes and fines.”

But despite Fan’s explanation, little was known about her lost months — until now.

THE LOST MONTHS

In a lengthy investigation published recently in Vanity Fair, reporter May Jeong revealed fresh details about Fan’s whereabouts during that time.

The South China Morning Post previously reported the star had been detained under “residential surveillance” at a holiday resort — a policy introduced in 2012 that allows the state’s secret police to essentially kidnap rulebreakers for up to six months and prevent contact with the outside world.
 

Fan is regularly listed as the highest-paid celebrity in the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list. Picture: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Fan is regularly listed as the highest-paid celebrity in the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list. Picture: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

 

According to Vanity Fair, Fan was captured by “plainclothes police” and barred from speaking publicly or using her phone, with access to pen and paper withheld. She endured a near-total lack of privacy — “even when taking showers”.

On the day she issued her public statement, authorities revealed Fan had been ordered to repay “US$131 million ($A183 million) in back taxes and penalties”, Ms Jeong reported.

WHY FAN WAS TARGETED:

As chilling as Fan’s disappearance was, it is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Vanity Fair.

The publication claimed the Chinese government’s sudden crackdown on the film industry was the result of the nation’s slowing economy and a bid to “redirect economic power back under state control”, with many believing the intense scrutiny will soon spread to other areas.

In fact, since President Xi Jinping last March launched the National Supervision Commission — a powerful body tasked with looking into corruption and tax dodging — “tens of thousands” of people have “disappeared”, just like Fan.
 

President Xi Jinping is clamping down on tax evasion. Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
President Xi Jinping is clamping down on tax evasion. Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images


Late last year, tax authorities announced a deadline of December 31 for film companies to repay unpaid taxes on unreported income without further punishment.

But from January 1, those who hadn’t co-operated would be “dealt with seriously”.

The ominous announcement reportedly left movie insiders scrambling — and with the practice of “yin and yang” contracts apparently rampant in China, it may be just a matter of time before more famous faces disappear.

Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | alexis.carey@news.com.au

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 Keywords: China

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