The owner and publisher of the shuttered Cambodia Daily newspaper has issued a letter of apology to Prime Minister Hun Sen over her comments during a month-long tax battle with the government.
The paper ceased operation after 24 years on September 4, the deadline the tax department set to pay about $6 million in back taxes.
Its management has since been accused of tax evasion and defamation, and has been ordered not to leave the country.
In the lead up to its closure, owner and publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele accused the government of using an arbitrary tax bill to attack freedom of the press, as well as accusing government officials of leaking confidential tax papers to the government-aligned Fresh News website.
On Saturday, Ms Krisher-Steele back-tracked, issuing a letter written in Khmer to Mr Hun Sen, pleading for him to allow the paper to reach an agreement with the tax department and reopen.
“The closure of the Cambodia Daily was not due to politically motivated attacks,” she said.
“I am sorry about my commentary that said the paper was shuttered due to the government attacking it and the freedom of the press in Cambodia.”
“Please Mr Hun Sen consider this and allow us to find a resolution to comply with the law,” she added. “I hope Mr Hun Sen can see this tax issue between the Daily and the tax department resolved in order to allow the paper to reopen.”
Meanwhile, Ms Krisher-Steele’s father Bernard Krisher also issued a letter to Mr Hun Sen, written in English, to say he planned to travel from Japan to Cambodia to seek a resolution.
In his letter, Mr Krisher said his daughter only owned the paper for four months and should not be held responsible for the ten-year back tax bill, for which he would take responsibility.
“My hope was for The Cambodia Daily to continue under her leadership after I died,” Mr Krisher, 86, said.
“In our sales agreement we agreed that any liabilities from the period I owned The Cambodia Daily (August 1993 to March 2017) would be my responsibility.
“Any liabilities from March 2017 would be hers. She has done everything correctly according to the law and has paid every dollar of VAT collected.”
“The problem is that now my daughter Deborah has been charged with back taxes from 2007 to 2016, which is during the time I owned The Cambodia Daily,” he added.
“I ask you to please allow me to take responsibility for The Cambodia Daily for the time it was under my ownership and not pass this responsibility on to my daughter. I am preparing to travel to Cambodia to save my daughter.”
Kong Vibol, director-general of the General Department of Taxation, told Fresh News on Saturday that the government would not accept any apology from the Daily.
“The owner of the newspaper has to pay tax that is owed to the state,” Mr Vibol said. “This one letter from Ms Krisher-Steele cannot solve the issue.
“The government still has the stance not to accept an apology from the Cambodia Daily’s owner and they need to pay the tax,” he added.
Mr Vibol could not be reached for further comment yesterday.