MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Russa and her online news company were cleared of tax evasion charges Wednesday, she said after former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tried to shut down critical reporting. was one of the legal cases used for.
The Court of Tax Appeals ruled that prosecutors failed to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that Ressa and Rapper Holdings Corp avoided tax payments in four cases after raising capital through a partnership with two foreign investors. “The acquittal of the accused is based on the finding of the court that the defendants have not committed the offense as alleged,” the court said in its judgement.
The rapper hailed the court’s decision as a “triumph of facts over politics”.
“We thank the court for this just decision and for recognizing that the fraudulent, false and frivolous allegations made by the Bureau of Internal Revenue have no basis in fact,” the rapper said in a statement. “An unfavorable decision would have had far-reaching effects on both the press and the capital market.”
“Today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins,” Rappler quoted Ressa as saying after the verdict was announced.
Ressa won the Nobel in 2021 with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov for fighting for the survival of their news organizations, defying government efforts to shut them down. Both were honored “for their efforts to defend freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
The tax charge against Ressa and Rappler stems from a separate allegation in 2018 by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Manila’s corporate watchdog, that the news website violated a constitutional provision that prohibits foreign ownership of Philippine media companies when they receive funds from foreign investors. and curb control. Omidyar Network and North Base Media through financial papers called Philippine Depository Receipts.
The Philippine Commission ordered the closure of Rappler based on the allegation, which Rappler denied and appealed, saying it was a news company that is wholly owned and controlled by Filipinos.
The tax court ruled that Philippine Depository Receipts issued by Rappler were non-taxable, removing the basis for tax evasion charges filed under Duterte by Justice Department prosecutors.
“There was no profit or income generated by the accused in the said transaction,” the court said.
There was no immediate reaction from the government.
Ressa and Rappler face three more legal matters, a separate tax case filed by prosecutors in another court, their Supreme Court appeal over an online libel conviction, and Rappler against a closure order issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission. appeal of.
Rapper, founded in 2012, was one of several Philippine and international news agencies to critically report Duterte’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, which killed thousands of mostly petty drug suspects and prolonged police-enforced lockdowns. including his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, that deepened poverty, led to one of the country’s worst recessions and sparked allegations of corruption in government medical purchases.
The mass drug killings prompted an investigation by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity.
Duterte ended his often turbulent six-year term last year and was succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of a dictator who was overthrown in an army-backed “people power” coup in 1986 after an era of widespread human rights violations Was. and loot.