Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday tried a public defamation case against Deborah Krisher-Steele, deputy publisher of the shuttered Cambodia Daily, who accused tax officials of leaking a copy of the paper’s $6.3 million tax bill.
The General Department of Taxation filed a lawsuit against Ms Krisher-Steele in September, accusing her of defamation for comments she made to the press during a month-long battle over the tax bill, when she accused government officials of leaking confidential tax documents to the Fresh News website.
Judge Seng Leang of Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday tried Ms Krisher-Steele, who was absent at the hearing and represented by her lawyer.
The Facebook page of the United Nations Human Rights in Cambodia said in a post that it was monitoring the hearing.
“We are monitoring the hearing of Ms Deborah Krisher-Steele, deputy publisher of the former Cambodia Daily at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court,” it said yesterday.
Ms Krisher-Steele’s defence lawyer said the hearing would be continued on April 12, but declined to elaborate on the case.
Mao Savutheary, the lawyer representing the GDT, also declined to elaborate and referred questions to tax officials.
The GDT’s complaint accuses Ms Krisher-Steele, the paper’s owner and publisher, her father and previous owner and publisher Bernard Krisher, and in-country general manager Douglas Steele of tax evasion.
Ms Krisher-Steele confirmed via email yesterday that the public defamation suit filed against her by the GDT would continue on April 12 at 9am.
“Please come to my trial, even though it is the day before Khmer New Year, and you will be able to find out what I think about this case,” she said, declining further comment.
The Daily ceased operations in September after 24 years, claiming the government was using an arbitrary tax bill to silence an independent media outlet providing insight into government machinations.
The paper maintained the roughly $6 million being sought by the government had “no basis in reality” and asked for a formal audit, which was not granted before the deadline to settle the debt.
Kong Vibol, head of the GDT, could not be reached for comment yesterday.