Frequent government interlocutor and newspaper publisher Soy Sopheap yesterday said he provided the Cambodia Daily three solutions to settle an impasse with the Tax Department over a $6.3 million tax bill, adding they should soften their tone and refrain from painting the issue as political.
The Cambodia Daily is facing imminent closure after it was slapped with the “exorbitant” tax bill last month and given one month to, as Prime Minister Hun Sen put it, “pay up or pack your things”.
This follows similar attacks on independent broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, which were pulled up for their tax compliance and also saw stations broadcasting their shows shuttered.
Sopheap, who is the publisher of Deum Ampil newspaper, said he was contacted by the Daily and met with them to suggest three options. He refused to divulge details or disclose with whom he met, though a story on his newspaper’s website named General Manager Douglas Steele.
“I asked him whether they wanted to continue or to close. He said he wants to continue. Then I gave the ideas, one, two, three, but I’d like to hide the ideas,” he said.
But he did say that the Information Ministry could play a role in helping explain the situation of newspapers in Cambodia, and that – coupled with a “softening” in tone from the Daily – could yield a solution with the Tax Department.
“When I listened to him, I think the case is not necessary to go to the prime minister. If we say it is political, it is unjust for my prime minister because this is technical,” he said.
Jodie DeJonge, editor-in-chief of the Daily, would only say that the newspaper “will be working through the weekend to try to find a resolution to the shut down threats”.
However, Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng was quick to turn down Sopheap’s suggestion, saying the ministry had no authority to intervene in a dispute between the Tax Department and a news publication.
“When it is about business, it is related to the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Information is only about giving permission to media to operate,” he said. “So, they have to deal with this by themselves.”
Adding to the flow of international condemnations following the threat of closure, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights yesterday slammed the government’s recent crackdown.
“Cambodians are losing an important lifeline to independent information, integral to the successful functioning of a democratic society,” said Philippine Congressman Tom Villarin.
“The sharp and sudden demise of the limited space for free media that previously existed in Cambodia should alarm even the most cynical observers.”