Cambodia Daily owner asks Hun Sen for help

A man reads the last and final issue of the Cambodia Daily Newspaper on a street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 04 Sept 2017. (EPA photo)

The owner of The Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper which ceased operation last Monday ahead of a government threat to shut it for unpaid taxes, has asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow it to resume publication.

Deborah Krisher-Steele, the owner of The Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co Ltd, publisher of The Cambodia Daily, wrote a letter to Hun Sen on Saturday, seeking his help in resolving the tax dispute so that the newspaper can resume operating and prevent more than 100 staff from losing their jobs.

In the letter, Ms Krisher-Steele also states that the government action against the newspaper was not politically motivated as widely reported abroad.

On Wednesday, the government filed a lawsuit in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against Ms Krisher-Steele for claiming in comments to the media that the government's move to close the newspaper for unpaid taxes was politically motivated.

The lawsuit demands 800 million riels (about $200,000) in damages, while Ms Krisher-Steele could be fined up to 10 million riels if found guilty of defaming the government.

Another lawsuit filed the same day in the same court seeks damages for tax evasion and impeding tax collection against Ms Krisher-Steele; her husband and the newspaper's editor-in-chief Douglas Eric Steele; and Bernard Krisher, the publisher, founder and former owner of the newspaper.

The lawsuit claims that The Cambodia Daily had been operating since 1993 but did not register with the tax department until March 17, 2017.

According to the tax department, The Cambodia Daily failed to pay tax amounting to $6.4 million.

In a separate letter to Hun Sen last week, Bernard Krisher wrote that he established the newspaper in 1993 to provide a high quality news service to the Cambodian people, and that Hun Sen -- who has been prime minister since 1985 -- permitted him to publish freely even when he disagreed with some stories.

"I am now 86 years old," Mr Krisher wrote. "In March 2017, I sold the assets for The Cambodia Daily to my daughter...I ask you to please allow me to take responsibility for The Cambodia Daily for the time it was under my ownership and not pass this responsibility onto my daughter."

Mr Krisher also wrote that he was "preparing to travel to Cambodia to save my daughter," who the government has indicated will not be allowed to leave the country until the tax dispute and associated legal issues are resolved. Presumably her father could face similar treatment should he return to Cambodia

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