Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia Daily given till Sept 4 to pay taxes

Cambodia Daily given till Sept 4 to pay taxes

Tax Department head Kong Vibol speaks at a meeting last year in Phnom Penh.
Tax Department head Kong Vibol speaks at a meeting last year in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Cambodia Daily given till Sept 4 to pay taxes

The Tax Department’s Kong Vibol on Saturday said English-language newspaper the Cambodia Daily faced shuttering and the seizure of its assets if it failed to pay back taxes it allegedly owes by September 4 – a seeming escalation in the government’s recent targeting of NGOs and independent media outlets for tax-related scrutiny.

Vibol’s statement came after his department on August 4 sent the Daily a bill – which was soon leaked – for $6.3 million in back taxes, penalties and interest, and gave them one month to pay up. The letter followed a directive from Prime Minister Hun Sen for authorities to take a closer look at tax compliance by NGOs and media organisations.

Speaking to government-aligned Fresh News, Vibol said the Daily’s owner, Deborah Krisher-Steele, daughter of founder Bernard Krisher, had said she was unaware of the “debt” when she took over the publication from her father. The Daily has said that prior to the takeover, the publication was run as a non-profit, and noted that Krisher’s charitable contributions – reportedly totalling in the tens of millions – should be taken into account when calculating its tax burden, but Vibol said both challenges to the bill had been rejected by his department.

“The Cambodia Daily faces a complete shutdown and its assets will be confiscated if it fails to pay the tax by the 4th September deadline,” the Tax Department director told Fresh News. He clarified this would involve the seizure and freezing of physical assets and the suspension of the newspaper’s operations.

The August 4 document – addressed to Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co Ltd, the company established by Krisher-Steele when she took over the paper – cites a purported “audit” of the paper’s finances from 2007 to 2016, and says the company must pay about $2.39 million in taxes, $957,784 in “additional” taxes and $2.95 million in interest. It gave the paper 30 days to respond.

Vibol and his deputy, Vann Puthipoll, could not be reached yesterday.

Traffic passes in front of the General Department of Taxation office last week in Phnom Penh
Traffic passes in front of the General Department of Taxation office last week in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Krisher-Steele yesterday said in an email that the “astronomical amount” of back taxes was an arbitrary figure, and was not based on a true audit or due process from authorities.

Additionally, she said the leaking of confidential documents to the media also breached privacy laws, calling the targeting of the Daily a “sad day for press freedom” that betrayed a strategy of “execution first, trial after”.

“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,” she said.

She added that the newspaper was open to an audit and would have fully cooperated if asked for one. She reiterated that the Daily had been founded by Bernard Krisher as a nonprofit project in 1993 to train Cambodian journalists, adding that its assets and trademark transferred to the new company in April.

“If Bernard is meant to pay taxes for the Cambodia Daily, the [General Department of Taxation] need to perform a real audit,” she said, adding that no real assessment had been made of the Daily’s expenses, revenues and donations.

Ouk Kimseng, spokesman for Ministry of Information, yesterday washed his hands of the matter, saying the ministry – which is responsible for regulating news outlets – could not help a firm that did not respect the law. “I have no rights to say what the [other] ministry will do because this is the authority of ministry relevant to tax. So, don’t ask whether the Ministry [of Information] will intervene,” he said.

The Daily was not the only news organisation to be sent a tax notice. Khmer-language news outlets Radio Free Asia and Voice of America were also pulled up by a Ministry of Economy letter questioning whether they had paid back taxes or were licensed by the Ministry of Information.

All three outlets have a history of often critical coverage in a media landscape dominated by outlets that skew pro-government.

RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan said last week that the radio outlet had been approached by the government on the taxation issue last October, and that they were complying with any requests by the authorities.

“The sudden unilateral action taken by the Department of Taxation this week does not reflect our cooperation with the process provided to us, and is more in line with the increasing and worrisome pattern of intimidation of RFA and other international broadcasters,” he said via email.

Similarly, George Mackenzie, from VOA’s public relations department, said his outlet had also engaged the government and was awaiting clarification on the request, given the conflicting information from various government agencies.

Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival draws to close

    Cambodia's 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival wrapped up successfully on November 28 after a four-day run, with the film “Voice of the Night” awarded top prize for 2022. Sum Sithen, the organiser of the short film festival, told The Post that the number of attendees to the