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China ‘livestream queen’ accounts disappear after record fine

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Huang Wei, known by her username Viya, is one of China's most prominent livestreamers in an e-commerce sector that has boomed./AFP
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Dec 22, 2021 - 06:33 AM

BEIJING, CHINA — The social media accounts of an influencer known as China’s ‘livestreaming queen’ disappeared on Tuesday, after she was ordered to pay a record $200 million fine for tax evasion.

Huang Wei, known by her username Viya, is one of China’s most prominent livestreamers in an e-commerce sector that has accelerated its rapid growth despite the coronavirus pandemic that took hold last year.

Boasting over 110 million followers on social media Viya reportedly sold products worth a total of 8.5 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) in just one evening during China’s recent Singles’ Day shopping festival.

But her star has fallen fast since authorities on Monday announced the 1.3 billion-yuan penalty — the biggest of its kind in Beijing’s sweeping crackdown on celebrities.

Viya’s accounts vanished from major online platforms on Tuesday, with her livestreaming page on the Alibaba-owned Taobao shopping site rendered inaccessible.

Searches for her account on the Twitter-like Weibo and Douyin — China’s version of TikTok — also returned no results.

Chinese censors closely monitor content on the country’s tightly controlled internet and frequently order the removal of accounts belonging to people who fall out of the ruling Communist Party’s good graces.

Beijing has launched a broad crackdown on tax evasion and perceived immoral behaviour in the entertainment industry that has targeted online influencers and celebrity fan groups.

The tightening has coincided with the launch of President Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” drive to reduce economic inequality, partly by reining in excessive incomes in the entertainment and technology sectors.

Tax authorities in the eastern province of Zhejiang said Monday that Viya “evaded 643 million yuan of taxes” between 2019 and 2020 by “concealing personal income and [making] false declarations of income.”

She had already been fined 530,000 yuan in June for breaching advertising laws, after some fans accused her of peddling counterfeit products.

Authorities also fined two other livestreamers $14 million last month.

Before her account was taken down, Viya apologised on Weibo for breaking tax laws and said she fully accepted the punishment.

“I am very remorseful and apologise to the public,” she wrote.

A series of scandals have taken down some of China’s biggest entertainers this year as part of the crackdown.

Chinese actress Zheng Shuang was hit with a $46 million fine for tax evasion.

At the time, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television said it had “zero tolerance” for tax evasion and entertainers’ “sky-high pay”.

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