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Maria Ressa, Rappler cleared of tax evasion charges

    Maria Ressa
“Today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins.” Maria Ressa outside the court after being cleared of tax evasion charges, January 18, 2023

MANILA –Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and her online news company, Rappler, were acquitted of tax evasion charges on January 18.  

The Court of Tax Appeals ruled that prosecutors failed to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the news organization had evaded tax payments in four instances after raising capital through partnerships with two foreign investors. “The acquittal of the accused is based on the findings of the court that respondents did not commit the crime charge,” the court said in its decision.

This was just one of several legal cases that Ressa said were used by former President Rodrigo Duterte to suppress critical reporting.

“Today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins,” said a visibly emotional Ressa after the verdict was announced. Rappler welcomed the court decision as “the triumph of facts over politics.”

“We thank the court for this just decision and for recognizing that the fraudulent, false, and flimsy charges made by the Bureau of Internal Revenue do not have any basis in fact,” Rappler said in a statement. “An adverse decision would have had far-reaching repercussions on both the press and the capital markets.”

The case against Ressa alleged that Rappler had failed to include proceeds from a 2015 sale of depositary receipts to foreign investors in its tax returns. However, the tax court ruled that the receipts were non-taxable, which removed the basis of the tax evasion charges filed by Justice Department prosecutors under former President Duterte.

Ressa and Rappler are currently appealing the Securities and Exchange Commission closure order that provoked the now-resolved tax case. That order had shut down Rappler based on an allegation alone that the news website violated a constitutional provision that prohibits foreign ownership and control of Philippine media companies. Rappler denied this, saying it was a news company totally owned and controlled by Filipinos.

Aside from the SEC appeal, Ressa and Rappler face another tax case filed by prosecutors in another court while Ressa remains on bail and appeals the six-year prison sentence on the libel conviction in a case brought by businessman Wilfredo Keng. Rappler reported that Keng had lent a sport utility vehicle to Supreme Court Judge Renato Corona and cited sources who claimed Mr. Keng was tied to illegal drugs, human trafficking, and murder.

The National Union for Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement, “While colleagues similarly face legal challenges – from libel to made up terrorism charges – in relation to their work, we take inspiration from this acquittal that if we stand up and hold the line, we can win.”