The General Department of Taxation yesterday asked immigration police to prevent the publishers of the Cambodia Daily newspaper from leaving the country while the paper still owes about $6 million in back taxes.
The paper ceased operations yesterday after a 24-year run, claiming the government was attacking free press by issuing the arbitrary tax bill and giving the paper a 30-day deadline to pay up or face assets seizure and closure.
“As we finished the last paper last night, there was an outpouring of encouragement from Cambodians and people around the globe, who are so sorry to see the Daily close,” Jodie DeJonge, editor-in chief of the paper, claimed via email yesterday.
“We’re sorry too,” she added. “We wanted to continue to bring independent news to the people for many years to come.”
On Sunday, the paper’s owner and publisher issued a statement confirming the paper would not be paying the tax bill and would be closing.
“The power to tax is the power to destroy,” the paper’s statement said. “As a result of extra-legal threats by the government to close the Daily, freeze its accounts and prosecute the new owner for the actions of the previous owner, The Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co. is unable to operate The Cambodia Daily newspaper.”
The firm behind the paper, owned by Deborah Krisher-Steele, purchased the assets of the Cambodia Daily in April from Bernard Krisher.
The paper’s general manager Douglas Steele resides in the country, while Ms Krisher-Steele is based in Japan.
Kong Vibol, director-general of the General Department of Taxation, issued a letter yesterday asking the General Immigration Department to prevent both Ms Krisher-Steele and Mr Steele from leaving the country.
“[The] General Department of Taxation has asked for cooperation from the General Immigration Department to prevent the departure from Cambodia by Deborah Krisher Steele and Douglas Eric Steele in order to push these two people to pay their debts to the state,” Mr Vibol said in the letter.
Photos and passports of Ms Krisher-Steele and Mr Steele were also attached to the letter.
Neither Ms Krisher-Steele nor Mr Steele could be reached for comment yesterday.
The government has in the past few weeks attacked the Cambodia Daily newspaper over unpaid taxes, kicked the National Democratic Institute out of the country and shut down multiple radio stations renting airtime to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.