PHNOM PENH —
The owner of the Cambodia Daily newspaper has called for negotiations with officials over an alleged $6 million tax bill.
Deborah Krisher-Steele, the Daily’s publisher, said the leaking of information regarding the newspaper’s alleged debts violated tax laws and due process.
The paper was handed the bill earlier this month and given until September 4 to pay or face closure, the seizure of its assets and suspension of its license to operate.
Krisher-Steele alleged that Kong Vibol, head of the tax department, had twice violated tax law by speaking publicly about the affair. “Those who violate it can be jailed and fined. Will P.M. Hun Sen make him accountable for those breaches?” she wrote in an email.
She added that the situation provided Hun Sen the chance “to show his leadership and prove that he is capable of running his agencies competently and that there is no political motive behind the move to shut down The Cambodia Daily.”
Under Article 94 of the tax law, government officials must “keep confidential the information pertaining to the tax payer that they have received during their official performance of their duty”.
Officials have on several occasions given interviews to pro-government media detailing the Daily’s alleged debts.
Vibol, however, denied he had leaked information about the Daily’s taxes. “Please, find those who leaked it because I didn’t leak it,” he said, before going on to repeat the details of the alleged tax bill in an interview with VOA.
However, he also criticized the former publisher of the Daily, Bernard Krisher, Krisher-Steele’s father, for claiming that previous charitable work in the country should count towards the payment of debts. “It’s not right for them to say that they spent money to build schools [therefore don’t owe tax],” he said.
Krisher-Steele then wrote to Vibol, requesting a meeting to postpone the deadline until after a full audit can be carried out.
“The leaks with what I contend is false information about the amount of back taxes owed by The Cambodia Daily has been hurting my business,” she wrote.
The Daily was founded by Krisher, a friend of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, in 1993.
However, Hun Sen this week labeled the newspaper “chief thief” and claimed the move to close it was not politically motivated.
Human rights groups have claimed the government is conducting a broad crackdown on the media and civil society ahead of a contentious general election next year, which has included Hun Sen ordering the closure of the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, a democracy promotion outfit, as well as levying tax bills against NGOs and critical media outlets, including VOA Khmer and Radio Free Asia.