Tax Department head Kong Vibol yesterday defended his handling of a dispute with the now-shuttered Cambodia Daily, telling attendees at a tax forum that his department only followed procedure by assessing the newspaper’s liabilities and that it was the Daily that sought to politicise the matter.
The Daily ceased operations on September 4 after it was handed an “exorbitant” $6.3 million tax bill and given a month to, as Prime Minister Hun Sen put it, “pay up or leave”. The frequently critical paper failed to come up with the money, and its closure coincided with the expulsion of US-backed NGOs and the closure of more than a dozen independent media organisations.
“So the case of the Cambodia Daily is that they never came forward with the proof that we did something wrong,” Vibol said. “Except they go and take the issue to the press [claiming] that we are trying to shut down the press.”
He added that had the Daily followed tax procedures, it could have appealed the bill, and also could have taken a staggered approach to paying it.
The newspaper’s former deputy publisher, Deborah Krisher-Steele, and former general manager, Douglas Steele, could not be reached.