The Tax Department yesterday issued a letter asking the Immigration Department to prevent Deborah Krisher-Steele and Douglas Steele – both representatives of the Cambodia Daily – from leaving the country, a day after department head Kong Vibol said he would continue to pursue the tax dispute that precipitated the paper’s closure.
The Daily published its last edition yesterday, complying with an order to either pay an “exorbitant” $6.3 million tax bill by September 4 or cease operations.
On Sunday, the newspaper announced that Deputy Publisher Krisher-Steele would be handing its assets back to founder Bernard Krisher, her father, who was willing to face any legal action stemming from the tax dispute.
The letter says that Krisher-Steele and General Manager Douglas Steele – both listed as members of the board of directors by the Ministry of Commerce – had failed to fulfil their tax duties and still owed 25 billion riel (around $6.3 million), and that the department would continue to seek to collect the debt, the paper’s closure notwithstanding.
Additionally, it asks the Immigration Department to prevent the duo from leaving the country.
“The General Tax Department would like to request cooperation from the Department of Immigration by taking action to ban the travel out of Cambodia for Deborah Krisher-Steele and Douglas Eric Steele in order to put the burden on these two individuals to pay tax to the state, to eventually avoid the risk of losing the income,” the letter reads.
Both are named as directors of Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co, Ltd, the company Krisher-Steele formed when she took over the newspaper from her father earlier this year. The paper’s closure, after 24 years of hard-hitting reporting, comes amid a sweeping clampdown on independent media in the Kingdom, with at least 15 radio stations – mostly carrying content from Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Voice of Democracy – also forced to close in recent weeks.
Immigration Department head Sok Phal refused to comment on the directive, as did Uk Hai Seila, director of investigations with the immigration police.
However, a police officer at Phnom Penh International Airport confirmed that immigration officials had received the directive, which also contains copies of their passports.
Steele declined to comment on the directive yesterday, and Krisher-Steele did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
The Tax Department’s Vibol, who could not be reached yesterday, has maintained that his department will continue to work on retrieving the debt.
“Even though there is a closure, the enforcement on tax will continue. The debt must be paid and the one who is responsible for this news institution is the one who is responsible for the state debt,” he told government mouthpiece Fresh News on Sunday.