The CEO of The Phnom Penh Post Marcus Holmes has rubbished reports that Cambodia’s oldest English language paper is on the verge of shutting down, characterising recent negotiations on a tax bill as “routine.”
On March 16, news website AEC News published an article alleging that the Phnom Penh Post had incurred a $3.9 million tax penalty for failing to disclose a $2.5 million transfer from Australia and that it would close in 60 days without a massive injection of funds. Other claims include that Post Media, the newspaper’s publisher, will soon have to repay a $200,000 loan to a local bank and that a Phnom Penh court had recently ordered the company to pay a former CEO a six-figure settlement immediately.
Similar stories have been published by other media outlets, including Catholic newswire UCAN.
The sources of the information are identified in the articles as anonymous hackers or people close to Phnom Penh Post Publisher Bill Clough.
The Phnom Penh Post is not the only paper to face tax issues in recent months.
Last year, independent English-language paper The Cambodia Daily found itself embroiled in a bitter battle with the tax department when it was abruptly slapped with an exorbitant $6.3 million tax bill. The paper was forced to shut down in September but continues to run an online, non-commercial publication.
Other media also found themselves hounded by the tax department, with some broadcasters, including Phnom Penh-based Moha Nokor being ordered to shut down.
Some have speculated that the series of events is part of a larger campaign to silence voices of dissent ahead of the country’s next general election, which will be held in July. In September, opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested at his house on charges of treason and his main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved the following month, effectively eliminating the only credible threat to current Prime Minister Hun Sen’s power.
Holmes, however, has insisted that the negotiations over tax were unaffected by the paper’s status as the last independent newspaper in the country, and have been going on since December.
“It’s so routine,” he said, according to The Phnom Penh Post. “We fully expect we are going to explain this, [the GDT] is going to accept that and everyone is going to be happy.”
Holmes did acknowledge that the government had sent a letter alleging that the paper failed to follow proper reporting requirements regarding a $2.5 million money transfer from Australia and that the issue was now subject to negotiations.
He also addressed other matters raised in the articles, stating that the loan from the local bank was normal and that the company planned to pay it off within the next year, The Phnom Penh Post reported.
Holmes also stated that the paper will be appealing the ruling in the wrongful dismissal suit brought by former CEO Chris Dawe.
“None of this is new, or interesting, or surprising,” he said, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
“It’s all painted in these apocalyptic terms because we’re the last independent newspaper in Cambodia. If we weren’t . . . it would be very boring, and no business editor would be vaguely interested in publishing anything about it.”