Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday labelled the Cambodia Daily newspaper a thief and denied that the order for it to pay $6.1 million in back taxes was politically motivated.
The General Department of Taxation has given the paper, which often criticises the government, until September 4 to pay the back taxes or face legal action, including the seizure of property and possible closure.
The paper’s publishers and owner have so far refused to pay and this week claimed that the order was politically motivated to shut down a paper critical of the government.
Mr Hun Sen said the paper was akin to a “thief” by not agreeing to pay the taxes.
“Now they are diverting the issue saying it is politically motivated,” said Mr Hun Sen. “They are like thieves. If you want to continue, just pay the taxes to the state and if not, please leave Cambodia.
“We have to clearly talk to each other that this is not politically motivated,” he added, noting that the government was simply enforcing tax laws that previously went unchecked.
Kong Vibol, director-general of the general department of taxation, concurred with the prime minister.
“Please don’t wash yourself off by accusing the government of using this case as a political tool,” he told Fresh News, a government-aligned website. “If you want to continue your activity just pay the tax.”
Political analyst Meas Ny said it was correct for the government to finally take action against businesses that had operated without paying taxes.
But he said the public saw the enforcement as an attack by the government on critical media and NGOs.
“The public still has doubts about the tax enforcement because the government has immediately took measures to target NGOs and media outlets critical of the government,” Mr. Ny said.
“It would badly affect society if an independent newspaper was shut down.”
Deborah Krisher-Steele, owner and publisher of the Cambodia Daily, said yesterday the paper had been denied that right of process, and wanted proper procedures to be followed.
“If the general tax department believes the Cambodia Daily owes taxes, they need to tell us why or ask us to provide information,” she said.
“So far none of that happened. It appears they pulled $6.1 million out of a hat without any justification and gave us 30 days to respond.
“Normally when a company or individual disagrees, the process of an audit begins where a review and re-examination of the financials are conducted.”