Top Chinese live-streamer fined $210m for tax evasion

Viya Huang Wei seen in front of beige background, wearing a white suit jacket at product expo in May 2021
Viya (pictured) has been described as China’s “live-streaming queen” and has tens of millions of followers

A top Chinese live-streamer has been handed a 1.34bn yuan ($210m; £160m) fine for tax evasion.

Huang Wei, known as Viya, is an internet celebrity with tens of millions of followers. She has used her platform to sell a variety of products.

Authorities in Hangzhou accuse her of hiding her personal income as well as other financial offences between 2019 and 2020.

In a post on her Weibo account, she said she was “deeply sorry”.

“I thoroughly accept the punishment made by the tax authorities,” the post said.

The 36-year-old has become a major internet celebrity in China, fuelled by the meteoric growth of online shopping. She’s known as the country’s “live-streaming queen” and has sold everything from noodles to a commercial rocket launch on the online shopping Taobao platform.

Viya had been due to host a cosmetics sales event on Monday evening before her streaming account went offline, according to the Reuters news agency. Her huge platform meant she was named on Time magazine’s list of 100 influential figures in 2021. Viya is one of China’s most popular influencers or online sales vloggers.

However, the tide has very quickly turned against her in light of her huge fine for tax evasion.

One of the top hashtags on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo is #ViyaCompletelyBlockedOnline as outlets seek to remove her presence. Her Weibo account, where she had 18 million followers, no longer exists and media reports suggest her account on the eBay-like Taobao shopping platform has also been suspended.

The Global Times newspaper says that her penalty serves as a “warning to others”. However, there have been signs for the past month that China has been seeking to reform the industry.

China has the biggest live-streaming industry in the world. There are more than 400 million vloggers, or video bloggers, in the country.

Last month, online influencers were banned from recommending stocks online, and 88 celebrities were given “warnings” over live-streaming content. Two other notable live-streamers, Zhu Chenhui and Lin Shanshan, were handed US $10.2m and $4.3m fines and also had Weibo accounts removed.

The China Daily newspaper said at the time that “the investigation and punishment of those who evade taxes [would] be intensified to create a fair tax environment”.

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