The deputy publisher of the Cambodia Daily newspaper yesterday said the tax department’s stance that the paper owes $6.1 million in back taxes is a politically motivated tactic to shut a publication critical of the ruling CPP government.
The hard-hitting response from deputy publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele followed comments by Kong Vibol, director-general of the General Department of Taxation, made to the government-aligned Fresh News website on Saturday.
On Saturday, Mr Vibol told Fresh News that since he issued the $6.1 million back tax declaration to the Daily on August 4, the paper has responded twice, with both responses being dismissed.
Firstly, Ms Krisher-Steele said she only recently became the new owner of the paper after taking it over from her father, Bernard Krisher, and therefore did not have to account for former liabilities.
“When you buy a company, you buy all included properties and liabilities, so this excuse cannot be accepted,” Mr Vibol told Fresh News.
Secondly, Mr Krisher said he operated the paper as a not-for-profit and donated millions to the country through the construction of schools, which should be accounted for.
“The Cambodia Daily has received advertising as business,” Mr Vibol told Fresh News in response. “Those two responses cannot be accepted. So, September 4 is the deadline.”
Mr Vibol said that on September 4, another official letter would be issued to the paper, after which the department would begin seizing property from the paper to cover the back taxes.
“We will follow the law on tax by suspending its media licence, freezing its accounts and moving forward to entirely shut it down if
the newspaper refuses to
pay tax,” Mr Vibol said. Mr Vibol could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But Ms Krisher-Steele accused the government of attempting to shut down a critical publication.
“There is no doubt that there is a political will behind these actions,” she said.
“This is clearly a tax bill that is not meant to be paid but whose purpose is to close down the Cambodia Daily. It is a sad day for press freedom in Cambodia.”
Ms Krisher-Steele added that the tax department’s actions had been “execution first, trial after”.
“We received no audit. No due process. There was no refusal for an audit on our part either – we would have cooperated fully to the process if asked for one,” she said.
“So I’m afraid to say the astronomical amount of $6.1 million is not based on anything real.
“The GDT taxed the Cambodia Daily for 10 years on figures they have made up, added penalties and interest and then leaked it out to the public.”
The tax department is also seeking taxes from Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, radio stations that rent airtime from local stations.
George C. Mackenzie, public relations manager for VOA in Washington, said VOA was working with the government to find a solution.
“VOA is in contact with relevant Cambodia government officials on this matter and we are awaiting clarification, as there has been conflicting information provided to us from it various government agencies,” he said.