How a beautiful property intended for a spiritual academy was half-destroyed by the maneuvers and carelessness of rogue tax bureaucrats.
by Massimo Introvigne
Xizhi, Taiwan, lies outside of Taipei, near the idyllic Yangmingshan National Park. In 1995 Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, a menpai (similar to a school) of martial arts and self-cultivation rooted in esoteric Taoism, bought property in the Swiss Mountain Villa community, and developed it into a large event venue, a learning center for Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples), and facilities for hosting overseas Tai Ji Men dizi when they come to Taiwan.
In 1996, the politically motivated crackdown on Tai Ji Men started. Dr. Hong, his wife, and two dizi were arrested. Eventually, they will all be found not guilty of the charges raised against them by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen, and will even receive national compensation for their previous unjust detention.
In 1997, Prosecutor Hou had frozen all of Dr. Hong’s and his wife’s assets, including his houses in the Swiss Mountain Villa community, and in the same year, the National Tax Bureau (NTB) issued tax bills to Dr. Hong, as a by-product of the criminal case, and imposed a restraint on disposition on Dr. Hong’s houses in the Villa community. In 2003, Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were declared not guilty in the first criminal decision. The houses were unfrozen, but were compelled to be used as a collateral in the tax case.
In 2007 Taiwan’s Supreme Court ended the criminal case against Dr. Hong, his wife, and the two Tai Ji Men dizi. Again, they were declared innocent of all charges, including the alleged tax evasion. However, the NTB did not return to Dr. Hong his property in the Swiss Mountain Villa Community.
Since its founding in 1966, Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy has never had any tax problem, except for 1991-1996 as a result of the prosecutor’s ill-founded prosecution and tax referrals. The NTB treated Tai Ji Men as a cram school and issued unjustified tax bills for those six years. Later, the NTB admitted that Tai Ji Men is not a cram school and corrected the taxes to zero for five of those years, while maintaining the tax bill for 1992. This is illogical because the tax bills for the other years and 1992 are essentially the same. If there was no tax evasion for the other years, no taxes were evaded for 1992 either.
The Ministry of Finance’s Petitions and Appeals Committee and Administrative Courts have ruled in favor of Tai Ji Men 18 times in the last 20 years, and the fictitious tax amounts have been reduced multiple times. As a result, the collateral’s value exceeded the alleged tax amount, yet the NTB has never returned the excessive collateral voluntarily. In 2019, based on the 1992 tax bill, the Administrative Enforcement Agency further seized Dr. Hong’s property in the Swiss Mountain Villa community, the Tai Ji Men Academy in Nangang of Taipei City, and the Academy on Lai-nan Road in Kaohsiung City, resulting in the value of all the property seized substantially exceeding the alleged tax amount.
In 2020, land belonging to Dr. Hong in Miaoli and intended for the construction of a Tai Ji Men self-cultivation center was in turn auctioned and confiscated. Since the value of that land exceeded what was allegedly due for the year 1992, Dr. Hong’s property in the Swiss Mountain Villa community and his other seized property was finally returned to him.
23 years and 5 months and 15 days had elapsed since a restraint on disposition was imposed on his property in the Villa community by Prosecutor Hou and the NTB in 1997. Paradoxically, while Dr. Hong’s property remained seized and could not be disposed of, he still had to pay property taxes on it.
Re-entering the Swiss Mountain Villa after 23 years was heartbreaking for the Tai Ji Men dizi. The once majestic property had not been taken care of, and appeared destitute and dilapidated. In fact, it was almost in ruins. Careless rogue bureaucrats did not care how much damage they had caused to the property or the even greater intangible emotional damage they had created.
“According to the current regulations,” explained Lin Shih-Da, manager of a construction company, “you cannot reapply for a construction permit. It’s impossible to demolish and rebuild the house. If you want to renovate, it will cost more than to rebuild.”
For the enemies of Tai Ji Men, it seemed that destroying a spiritual movement, starting from the visible symbols of its efforts, was more important than justice, fairness, religious liberty, and the taxpayers’ own rights.