PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – One of Cambodia's two English-language daily newspapers said Monday it will continue to publish in the face of a reported deadline by tax officials to pay more than $6 million in taxes or get shut down.
The Ministry of Economy and Finance earlier this month told the newspaper it owed the government back taxes and interest dating back 10 years. The letter was part of a crackdown on delinquent taxpayers that prominently targeted media and civic organizations critical of the government. Those singled out also included two U.S. government-funded radio stations, the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, and local human rights groups.
The Sept. 4 deadline was reported by Fresh News, a website close to the government. It quoted Taxation Department director Kong Vibol as saying that if the Daily's tax bill was not paid by Sept. 4, his office would begin foreclosure procedures which could include suspensions of bank accounts, licensing and imports and exports.
The newspaper, which said it had not been officially informed of the deadline, denies owing the tax.
It quoted its general manager, Douglas Steele, as saying the government had "set a date of execution for the freedom of press in Cambodia. But we will keep going until they pull the trigger."
The newspaper was founded in 1993 by Bernard Krisher, a veteran U.S. journalist, to serve as a model and training ground for the development of journalism in Cambodia, which was seeking to re-establish democracy. He received the blessing of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was restored to the throne as a constitutional monarch, also in 1993.
The two U.S.-funded broadcasters facing tax demands say they are seeking clarifications from the government about their alleged tax liability.
Most Cambodian media, especially TV, are owned by the government or business operators with close connections to the authorities. Voice of America and Radio Free Asia are among the few platforms where government critics can reach a large audience. They are able to lease broadcast time from local radio stations.