Government-aligned media outlet Fresh News has published a leaked letter from the Taxation Department to the Cambodia Daily claiming that it owes $6.3 million in back taxes, a disclosure accompanied by scathing anonymous “letters” attacking the English-language newspaper and prominent NGOs.
The leak on Friday night came hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen, at a Council of Ministers meeting, instructed the interior, foreign and finance ministries to examine whether NGOs in Cambodia are paying income tax for their personnel.
The document was first made public on the Facebook page of opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrith, who said after the letter’s release that his page has been compromised by hacks since April and that he was not responsible for the leak.
After publishing the tax document, Fresh News then posted anonymous letters attacking the outlet the next day – the first from a “citizen” using the name “Cambodian Dragon”, who asked why an “American newspaper” was allowed to pay “no tax money”. The letter referred to the paper being “shut down” in a month if it didn’t pay, and accused the outlet and some NGOs of having double standards.
The second, purportedly from a “university student”, expanded on the theme, accusing the paper of writing news to “incite” and “defame”, and of “stealing tax”.
The swift publication of anonymous editorials, one of which alleged high-profile NGOs Licadho, Adhoc and Comfrel owed taxes, appeared to be a government tactic to “intimidate” civil society, said Licadho’s Deputy Director for Advocacy Naly Pilorge.
Pilorge said the allegations against Licadho were incorrect, and she criticised the release of the purported tax information of the Daily, which has long been criticised by the prime minister and recently had two reporters summonsed to court in a widely-criticised case.
“I think it’s completely inappropriate that partial tax and vague administrative information of individual newspapers or other businesses would be posted publicly by pro government media without a process or final decision by relevant government institution[s],” she wrote in a message.
Adhoc spokesman Seun Sen Karuna and Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha could not be reached.
The document, which is printed on General Department of Taxation letterhead and is dated August 4, is addressed to Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co Ltd, and is from Heng Narith, audit team chief at the department, which has been working to improve tax compliance.
It cites an 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, and must respond within a 30-day period.
In a statement yesterday, the Daily’s owner, Deborah Krisher-Steele, daughter of founder Bernard Krisher, said the paper was launched as a nonprofit to “train Cambodian journalists” and “provide accurate news” to strengthen civil society, and was not registered as a private company until recently.
Krisher-Steele said her father did not take any salary because the publication “made no profit”, and instead subsidised the paper until April this year when it was sold to Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co Ltd, a Cambodian company she established, which intended to run the paper as “an ordinary company”.
Kong Vibol, the general director of the Taxation Department, yesterday declined to comment on the leaked document, as did Sothon Vichet, a cabinet director at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.