THE Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) filed criminal and tax evasion charges against Rappler Holdings Corp., the parent company of online news outfit Rappler Inc., and its officers before the Department of Justice (DoJ) on Thursday, claiming they deliberately failed to pay P133 million in taxes.
Among those charged were Maria Ressa, Rappler Holdings president and businessman and technology investor James Bitanga, treasurer.
The BIR said Rappler Holdings and its officers violated Sections 254 and 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code, for “willful attempt to evade or defeat tax [liabilities]and for deliberate failure to supply correct and accurate information” in the company’s annual income tax return (ITR) and value added tax returns (VAT) for 2015.
Rappler was held liable for non-payment of P133,841,305.75 – income tax of P91,320,481.08 and value-added taxes worth P42,520,824.76.
The BIR noted that Rappler Holdings bought common shares of Rappler Inc. worth P19,245,975.00. Then, it issued and sold securities called Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to two foreign companies for P181,658,758.67.
The bureau pointed out that Rappler Holdings used the same common shares it bought from Rappler Inc. as the underlying shares of the PDRs for profit, and transmitted economic rights to the PDR holders, Northbase Media and Omidyar Network.
Thus, Rappler Holdings is subject to income tax and VAT, being a dealer in securities.
However, the annual ITR and VAT returns for 2015, according to the BIR, did not reflect income tax and VAT payments for the PDR sale.
The complaint lodged against Rappler was the 133rd filed under the Run After Tax Evaders (RATE) program under the BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay.
In the Rappler story on the BIR complaint, Ressa called the latest charges “ludicrous,” pointing out that the BIR itself had named Rappler one of its top 500 taxpayers.
“This is clear intimidation and harassment. The government is wasting its energy and resources in an attempt to silence reporting that does not please the administration,” Ressa was quoted as saying.
In January, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings for violating the Constitution’s foreign equity restrictions in mass media, ruling that Rappler gave control to Omidyar Network of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar through PDRs.
The SEC also voided the PDRs. Rappler Holdings issued over seven million PDRs covering shares of Rappler Inc. to Omidyar Network for a $1-million investment.
Under Article XVI, Section 11 (1) of the Constitution, “The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.”
Omidyar Network later announced it was donating the PDRs to Rappler senior managers to adhere to the SEC ruling.
The case is pending before the Court of Appeals.
Also on Thursday, the National Bureau of Investigation lodged before the DoJ a cyber libel complaint against Rappler and its officers in connection with a news article published in 2012.
Aside from Ressa, also charged were former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr. who wrote the story, and directors and officers Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, Dan Albert de Padua and Jose Maria G. Hofilena.
Lawyers Jesse Andres and Melissa Antonette Andaya-Tay of Andres Padernal & Paras Law offices filed the complaint on behalf of their client, Wilfredo Keng.
Rappler had reported that the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, then facing an impeachment trial, was using a black SUV whose plate number was issued to Keng. The story cited Keng’s alleged involvement in human trafficking and smuggling.|
“Unlike published materials on print, defamatory statements online, such as those contained in the libelous article written and published by subjects, [are]indubitably considered as a continuing crime until and unless the libelous article is actually removed or taken down. Otherwise, the same is a continuing violation of Section 4 (c) (4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012,” the complaint stated.