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China’s live-streaming queen Viya fined US$210 million for tax evasion

China’s “queen of live streaming” Viya has been fined US$210.16 million for tax evasion, tax authorities said on Monday.

Viya, (in black in the image above), whose real name is Huang Wei, was fined for hiding personal income and other offences in 2019 and 2020, according to the tax bureau in Hangzhou, a city in southern China.

She later apologised.

“I’m deeply sorry about my violations of the tax laws and regulations,” she said on her Weibo account. “I thoroughly accept the punishment made by the tax authorities.”

Viya, 36, is known for her ability to sell “anything” via live streaming on the Taobao Live platform. Last year, she sold a rocket launch service for $6.27 million.

In a recent online shopping festival known as Singles’ Day, she sold products worth a total of $1.33 billion in one evening, according to media reports.

Viya is the latest celebrity live streamer to get caught up in a broad crackdown that initially targeted tech monopolies but has since gone on to take aim at private education, social media platforms, and the culture of celebrity.

Before the crackdown, tax evasion, an age-old practice among China’s celebrities, had already sunk the career of several well-known figures in the entertainment industry.

Viya, however, represents a new generation of celebrities, whose meteoric rise to fame has been powered by the equally dizzying growth of China’s e-commerce sector, many aspects of which have come under regulatory scrutiny.

Two e-commerce live-streaming influencers were reported to be under investigation for personal tax evasion last month and were together fined nearly $15.7 million. Their live-streaming services have since closed.

Viya was scheduled to conduct a live streaming at 7 pm on Monday, focusing on cosmetics. A check of her Taobao live-streaming studio showed that a reminder for the event had been removed.

The State Taxation Administration issued a notice in September, announcing measures to strengthen tax administration in the entertainment sector, including live streamers.

The office said anyone who reports and corrects tax-related misdoings would be given lighter punishment or even exempt from punishment. More than 1000 people had taken the initiative to pay tax arrears, according to state media.

Reporting by Sophie Yu in Beijing, Eduardo Baptista in Hong Kong; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Robert Birsel, of Reuters.

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