The founder of the Cambodia Daily newspaper, Bernard Krisher, and his daughter Deborah Krisher-Steele have appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen in two separate letters for help to reopen the paper.
The Daily closed on September 4 after more than 24 years amid a standoff with the country’s tax agency, which handed it a $6.3 million tax bill last month.
The paper’s forced closure drew criticism from the international community and was seen as a further sign that the government is concerned about dissenting voices ahead of next year’s general election.
In a letter dated September 7, 86-year-old Krisher wrote that he would take responsibility for the alleged tax charges, asking Hun Sen to remove responsibility from his daughter, who took over the running of the newspaper in April.
“She has done everything correctly according to the law and has paid every dollar of VAT collected,” he said in the letter, referring to Krisher-Steele.
“I ask you to please allow me to take responsibility for The Cambodia Daily for the time it was under my ownership and not pass this responsibility onto my daughter. I am preparing to travel to Cambodia to save my daughter,” the letter continued.
He claimed that the Daily’s revenue came solely from his own personal savings and advertising and had never received any funds from NGOs or political organizations.
“I established the newspaper in 1993 to provide a high-quality news service to the Cambodian people and Samdech [Hun Sen] permitted us to publish very free even if you disagreed with me some of our stories,” he said.
In a separate letter circulated only in Khmer, dated September 9, Krisher-Steele wrote to Hun Sen saying she regretted “that there are comments going around in Cambodia and outside the country which link the closure of the Cambodia Daily to politics and accuse the government of trying to silence freedom of the press” -- the position the Daily, and Krisher-Steele, has held publicly since the tax bill was delivered in early August.
Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said the letters would be ineffectual as the matter was the concern of the tax department, not the prime minister. “They [the Daily] should contact the tax department to find a solution over the tax payment,” he said.
Krisher Steele's letter was originally published by the Deum Ampil website, owned by Soy Sopheap, a pro-government “fixer” who attempted to mediate between the Daily and the government.
“We see the letter is written ... respecting the Cambodian leader and Cambodian law,” he said. “I think it’s on the right track but I don’t know if it will work.”
Krisher-Steele and her husband, Douglas Steele, were hit with a lawsuit for tax evasion and Steele, who was in Cambodia at the time, was told he could not leave the country until the charges were addressed.
In a separate complaint, Krisher-Steele was accused of defamation for claiming that the tax department violated the law by speaking publicly about the Daily’s tax debts.