Kong Vibol, director general of the General Department of Taxation, sat down with Khmer Times editors recently to discuss allegations of fraud and corruption levelled against him by Al Jazeera.
KT: Recently, Al Jazeera ambushed you in an interview and accused you of fraud and corruption and other illegal business activities in Australia. What is your response to the allegations?
Mr Vibol: I knew in advance that Al Jazeera was coming to interview me with an ill-intentioned motive to attack and defame me, the GDT and the government on behalf of the Cambodia Daily which shut down operations voluntarily in late 2017 for being non-tax compliant for a 24-year period when they were in operation in Cambodia. What do you think the US tax commissioner would do with a company which had become a serial tax-evader like the Cambodia Daily if it was in the US?
I had been warned by a western diplomat based in Cambodia, who had stated, right here in my office at the GDT and to my face that my home and international reputation, credibility and integrity were at risk if I did not let the Cambodia Daily off the hook on the tax issue. I immediately reported the incident to Prime Minister Hun Sen who advised me to follow the rule of law. He also expressed full support for my decision not to let the Cambodia Daily off the tax net as all businesses in Cambodia were subjected to the same tax regime.
As expected and as pre-warned, they did attack me, not only personally, but also boldly, unprofessionally and bluntly with all sorts of allegations with the intention of destroying my reputation and my credibility. They did so by cutting and pasting my answers – technically rearranging my answers to make me look and sound stupid – they did not put in my full answers and explanations which I gave to each of the allegations they had raised. All the allegations they raised were nothing but inaccurate facts and assumptions.
KT: They alleged that you have relatives owning and running a petroleum company called BVM and that this company had just completed its registration in 2017 and concluded therefore that the company may have not paid tax correctly as the company had been existence long before that. Could you please explain what this all about?
Mr Vibol: They didn’t catch me off guard on this as they made it look like on-screen. Although I didn’t have all the actual facts and figures at hand to show the interviewer right there and then during the interview, I knew instantly that the alleged information about the date of BVM’s tax registration was technically wrong.
The truth is BVM was incorporated and registered as a joint venture with three shareholders both at the Ministry of Commerce and at the General Department of Taxation in 2008 and it has been fully compliant with all the relevant laws and regulations ever since its incorporation.
With regard to the tax registration date of BVM which appears on the website of the Ministry of Commerce as 2017 and which Al Jazeera raised during the interview – this date was merely a technical mistake following the recent requirements by GDT for all taxpayers (all existing companies) to update their tax registrations to migrate from a paper-based tax registration to the newly established IT-based tax registration.
Because of some technical mistakes at the Ministry of Commerce, all the dates of tax registration of all companies and enterprises that have undergone these tax re-registration updates appear wrongly as between 2015 to 2017 when these dates should have been termed as “Updated Tax Registration”.
If one were to check the Ministry of Commerce records, almost all companies had re registered their companies in 2017 and almost all show 2017 as the year of registration. But these companies have been tax compliant for many years, including multi mational companies who have been operating for years but whose record at the Ministry shows 2017 as the date of tax registration.
I wish to also point out that there are no laws in the Kingdom of Cambodia and in the whole world, not even in the United States as a matter of fact, that ban relatives of government officials from owning or running businesses so long as these businesses fully comply with relevant local and international laws and regulations.
KT: The second allegation raised by Al Jazeera against you was related to your alleged shareholding in a family trust company in Australia and they implied that it was a fraudulent act insofar as you reside in Cambodia yet you listed your address as being in Victoria. Can you explain what this allegation is about?
Mr Vibol: According to my Melbourne-based lawyer who checked the provisions of the Corporations Act in respect to the allegations, it is completely inaccurate and incorrect. The fact that I reside in Cambodia and list my address for the company as being in Victoria, cannot be considered to be fraudulent. It was, however, a minor technical breach of the provisions of section 201A of the Act which requires that an Australian company must have at least one director who resides in Australia. A breach of this provision merely exposes the company to the possibility of a fine issued against it by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. This unintentional technical error however has now been successfully rectified.
With regard to other wrongful allegation by Al Jazeera that I was involved with other illegal business activities, my Melbourne-based lawyer has confirmed that I am not involved in any companies undertaking any business activities in Australia and that any previous companies in which I was involved in, were no longer active and have been closed; the allegations raised in this regard are incorrect, false and defamatory.
KT: The third allegation raised by Al Jazeera against you was in relation to your salary at the GDT of around $1,000 a month, and as such, how could you have become so wealthy?
Mr Vibol: Just like many successful individuals, I have taken advantage of my knowledge and skills to invest in real estate both in Australia and in the emerging economy of Cambodia, starting with a small investment of $30,000 at the time when the price of land and property was significantly low.
In Cambodia, for example, over the course of 20 years, I bought a number of plots of lands in the outskirts of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap city. These investment foresights are not illegal nor fraudulent as alleged and these gave me huge profit margins. I am not alone in exploiting such legitimate real estate opportunities in Cambodia and there are a sizeable number of Cambodian individuals who are making a fortune from this lucrative business while complying with the relevant laws and regulations of the Kingdom of Cambodia.