DOJ summons Rappler president, treasurer over tax evasion complaint

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 17) - The Justice Department summoned the president and treasurer of online news organization Rappler over the tax evasion complaint filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) against its parent company.

"You are hereby warned that failure on your part to comply with this subpoena shall be considered as a waiver to present your defense and the case shall be considered submitted for resolution based on the evidence on record," Assistant State Prosecutor Zenamar J.L. Machacon-Caparros said in the subpoena dated April 11.

According to the the site, Rappler president Maria Ressa and treasurer James Bitanga received the subpoena on Monday.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) also directed them to submit their counter-affidavits and other supporting documents or affidavits by witnesses, if any, at 11 am. Two dates were specified: April 24 and May 7.

On March 8, BIR filed a tax evasion case against Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) before DOJ.  RHC is the parent company of online news site Rappler Incorporated whose primary purpose is to buy and sell real and personal properties, according to the BIR.

In a statement, it said there was "deliberate failure" by RHC to provide correct information in its income tax return and value added tax (VAT) in 2015.

BIR added that RHC bought shares amounting to P19.25 million from Rappler Incorporated and then issued and sold Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs) worth P181M to two foreign entities.

BIR said no income tax and VAT were paid by RHC in 2015 for the income it gained in the PDR transactions.

"As a consequence of its acts and omissions, the aggregate tax liability of RHC amounted to P133,841,305," BIR said.

Ressa has called the complaint "ludicrous." "This is clear intimidation and harassment. The government is wasting its energy and resources in an attempt to silence reporting that do not please the administration," Ressa said.

Aside from BIR, Rappler is also facing raps from DOJ, National Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Solicitor General and Securities and Exchange Commission.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.