April 8th, 2011
03:18 AM GMT
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Beijing, China (CNN) – The Chinese government has confirmed that one of the nation's best known artists, Ai Weiwei, is in custody and is being investigated for "economic crimes."

"It has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression," said Hong Lei, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a regular briefing with reporters.

This is the first official acknowledgment that Ai is being held after the fierce critic of the Communist regime was taken by police over the weekend at the Beijing airport on his way to Hong Kong.

People who follow the dissident community say it is not uncommon for political activists to be investigated for economic crimes. They say when officials are having trouble building a case against a target, the authorities opt to accuse them of economic crimes such as tax evasion or corruption to discredit them publicly.

Ai's mother told us the suspicions were ridiculous and says her son doesn't have any financial issues. The family hasn't heard from the artist. His lawyer says he has no details of the charges and argues that even if Ai did have financial issues, they should have been handled in a different way.

He says the authorities are not following proper legal procedures despite the ministry's insistence that the investigation is proceeding according to Chinese law.

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