The publisher of the Doeum Ampil news website yesterday held a meeting with the besieged manager of the Cambodia Daily, which faces assets seizures and possible closure on Monday over an unpaid $6 million back tax bill.
The General Department of Taxation slapped the independent newspaper with the bill on August 4, giving it 30 days to fork out the cash or face legal action.
The Daily maintains the tax bill is arbitrary and being used as a political tool to silence a critical media outlet ahead of next year’s national election.
The government says it is simply strengthening the implementation of tax laws, not only against the Daily, but other private sector companies as well.
Soy Sopheap, publisher of the DAP news website, which has often held a pro-government stance, said yesterday that general manager Douglas Steele asked to meet with him for advice over the ongoing battle.
“He came to discuss it with me as if I was a doctor listening to a patient and I have written a prescription,” Mr Sopheap said. “I have issued the prescription for him, but whether he follows my prescription or not is his business.”
Mr Sopheap declined to discuss the advice he gave to the embattled general manager in detail, but mentioned one olive branch he suggested.
“I told him that Information Minister Khieu Kanharith is the guardian of all media outlets and he can write a letter to ask the Ministry of Economy and Finance to have some leniency on the issue,” he said. “This issue is not politically motivated and it is a technical issue that we can resolve.
“I don’t believe that the Daily will be shut down after September 4 if it follows my advice,” he added.
Neither Mr Steele, nor deputy publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele, could be reached for comment yesterday. They have in the past said the $6 million back tax bill “has no basis in reality” and “is an assault on press freedom thinly disguised as a tax dispute”.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia, said yesterday he hopes the two sides can reach an agreement that does not include the paper’s closure.
“The Cambodia Daily has helped society a lot by providing accurate information to reform loopholes in the government,” Mr Chey said. “We have encouraged the two parties to negotiate a resolution.”