PHNOM PENH —
The owners of the Cambodia Daily newspaper, which has been threatened with closure over an alleged $6 million tax bill, have rejected the claim amid threats of closure if they do not pay.
Deborah Krisher-Steele, who took over management of the Daily in April, told VOA Khmer in an email that the tax bill was not based on an audit of the company’s accounts and was politically motivated.
“There is no doubt that there is a political will behind these actions. 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,” she wrote.
“If Bernard is meant to pay taxes for The Cambodia Daily, the General Department of Taxation needs to perform a real audit. It first starts with defining what Bernard's project was, examine the actual revenue, actual expenses, donations and apply the rules correctly and fairly as one would expect of a tax department in a civilized society,” she added, referring to her father, Bernard Krisher, the former proprietor.
Krisher-Steele claims the government’s publication of the size of the alleged bill breaches tax laws.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in July that the government was investigating NGOs’ historic tax payments.
The head of the tax department, Kong Vibol, was later quoted in a pro-government news outlet saying the Daily had until September 4 to pay the bill or risk being shut down and its assets seized.
The Daily has claimed that as the paper was set up as a not-for-profit enterprise to train local journalists and its former owner has contributed substantial sums in charitable donations to the country, it should not have to pay the bill.
Rhona Smith, the UN’s human rights envoy, concluded her 10-day fact-finding visit to the country by commenting on the issue.
“It's necessary that all media services are able to report freely and fairly in accordance with the international rules of journalism and freedom of the media. And that they do not suffer from any undue restriction on their freedom of expression and indeed on their freedom of movement in the country,” she said.