The Cambodian tax authority has filed lawsuits against the owner and management of <i>The Cambodia Daily</i>, which was forced to close down earlier this week, for alleged tax evasion.
The General Department of Taxation filed the lawsuits with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against the English-language newspaper's owner Deborah Krisher-Steele, general manager and editor-in-chief Douglas Steele, as well as founder and publisher Bernard Krisher, according to the department's director general Kong Vibol.
In a letter of complaint, a copy of which was seen on Wednesday by Kyodo News, the government alleges that the Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co, the paper's previous owner, had been publishing The Cambodia Daily since 1993, but had only registered it with the tax department in March this year.
According to the paper, the company, owned by Krisher-Steele, purchased the assets of The Cambodia Daily in April 2017 from her father, Bernard Krisher.
The complaint also included a defamation lawsuit against Krisher-Steele, accusing her of alleging, in comments to the media, that the tax department's move was politically motivated and aimed at shutting down the paper.
The paper ceased operations on Monday as a result of being hit with a US$6.3 million back tax bill despite operating for many years at a loss.
Krisher has earlier asserted that the way he operated the paper was lawful.
Krisher and his daughter have remained in Tokyo over the past month, while the company's representative in Phnom Penh has been her husband, Douglas Steele. According to the government-aligned Fresh News, he has been banned from leaving the country.
The European Union issued a statement on Tuesday saying the paper's forced closure "represents a significant blow to Cambodia's media diversity.
The shut-down of The Cambodia Daily comes ahead of a general election scheduled for next July, and follows the weekend arrest of Kem Sokha, leader of Cambodia's main opposition party, on treason charges viewed by many as politically motivated.