Deputy disavows letter
letter was drafted by Sopheap.
“In retrospect, I shouldn’t have signed it without knowing exactly what it said. It was a very bad decision I made out of fear,” she said.
However, Sopheap – who admitted to meeting with Daily management before its closure and suggesting they “soften” their tone in a bid to keep the presses rolling – yesterday denied he penned the letter. “I did not know about that,” he said.
The Cambodia Daily printed its last newspaper on September 4 after it was slapped with a disputed $6.3 million tax bill, the details of which were leaked by government mouthpiece Fresh News.
Since the closure, the Tax Department filed a legal complaint accusing its founder and two directors of obstructing the tax process and tax evasion, which could see them face up to six years in prison.
It also issued a travel ban for Daily General Manager Douglas Steele, and his personal bank account was frozen, along with the bank accounts connected to the Daily’s NGO, World As- sistance for Cambodia.
Tax Department chief Kong Vibol was unavailable for comment yesterday, while his deputy Vann Puthipol claimed he “was not in charge of this issue”, despite heading the legal complaint, according to court documents.
Krisher-Steele stressed the NGO had no tax dispute and that the lack of access to funds jeopardised jobs for 120 Khmer staff, English and computer classes for 3,000 students, scholarships and mentorships for 600 rural schoolgirls, and food for 40 foster children, whose parents had died due to AIDS.
“I have a husband who has been taken hostage. I have a newspaper that shut down, but now my concern also is: how am I going to feed the 40 foster children?” Krisher-Steele said.
“People told me not to speak, because it may hurt me to speak . . . keep it all quiet, the way you’re being harassed by the Tax Department … But I can’t really do that, because it’s sort of like being abused and not talking about it.”
“I had no warning – it just came out of the blue . . . I thought I was reading Kafka’s novel.”