LONDON — Chinese livestreamer Wei Huang, known as Viya, who has worked with personalities including Kim Kardashian West, has been fined 1.34 billion renminbi, or $210 million, for tax evasion, part of China’s wider crackdown on celebrity offenders.
Hailed alongside Austin Li as “China’s queen and king of livestreaming,” Huang made headlines in 2019 when she did a livestream with Kardashian West to promote her beauty brand KKW.
She has been fined for hiding a total of 643 million renminbi, or $100.8 million, in taxes by concealing personal income and making false declarations in 2019 and 2020, the tax bureau in Hangzhou said on Monday.
She later issued a statement, and apologized.
“Since the tax bureau issued a notice to strengthen the taxation management of the livestreaming industry practitioners, I have conducted self-investigation for tax issues, and at the same time actively cooperated with authorities for investigation. In the process of self-examination and investigation, I found that I have indeed violated tax laws and regulations.”
She continued: “I am deeply guilty of this, and I hereby apologize to the public. I am deeply aware that it is my duty to pay taxes according to the law. I fully accept the decision of the tax bureau to punish me according to the law,” she said.
Shortly after her apology Li, also known as “China’s lipstick king” whose livestreaming transaction volume is neck-in-neck with that of Huang, said his company is operating as usual, and is not under any investigation.
Both Huang and Li are the top-grossing salespeople on Alibaba’s Taobao. On the first day of the pre-sale kickoff for this year’s Singles Day shopping festival, Huang raked in 8.5 billion renminbi in transactions on Taobao.
Huang is the latest person to be caught in China’s crackdown on celebrities who have risen to fame on the back of China’s booming e-commerce sector. Many aspects of e-commerce have come under regulatory scrutiny.
In September, China’s State Taxation Administration issued a notice announcing measures to strengthen tax administration in the entertainment sector, including livestreamers.
In November, two top Chinese livestreamers, Zhu Chenhui, better known as Cherie, and Lin Shanshan, who goes by the name Sunny, were handed a total of 93.2 million renminbi, or $14.6 million, in fines for tax evasion.
They were both found to have misreported personal income as business income, evading more than $6.8 million in taxes. Cherie was fined 65.5 million renminbi, or $10.2 million, while Sunny was fined 27.7 million renminbi, or $4.3 million. Cherie is an influencer who often jostles with Austin Li and Viya for the top three spots in livestreaming.
Both of them were removed from all social media platforms and banned from livestreaming. Huang suffered the same fate. Her social media presence was wiped out shortly after her apology.
Authorities said that big data had led to the investigation, and that the fine, including back taxes, was lenient due to the influencers’ cooperation with the audit, and their voluntary payback of partial tax before the cases were closed.
Similar tactics were used by actresses Fan Bingbing and Zheng Shuang before they were fined a hefty $129 million, and $46 million, respectively, by the government.