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Top Philippines news site face tax evasion charges

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Top Philippines news site face tax evasion charges
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Manila: The Philippines Justice Department said it had "found probable cause" to indict investigative news site Rappler and its CEO and executive editor on charges of tax evasion, the media reported on Sunday.

The Department said on Friday that Rappler and CEO Maria Ressa failed to declare about $3 million in 2015 on tax returns from an investment by the Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, CNN reported.

The investment was touted by Rappler in November 2015 as a partnership that created "an inclusive media" platform that blends professional journalism, technology and the wisdom of the crowd.

In response, Rappler issued a statement on Sunday, saying: "We are not at all surprised by the decision, considering how the (President Rodrigo) Duterte administration has been treating Rappler for its independent and fearless reporting."

Rappler has not shied away from critical reporting about Duterte, closely documenting his so-called "war on drugs", a widespread crackdown which has been condemned for encouraging thousands of extrajudicial killings.

In January, the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) temporarily revoked Rappler's registration on the basis that it had violated the country's constitution over foreign ownership rules.

The day before Friday's announcement of tax evasion charges, Ressa was in the US to accept a Knight International Journalism Award from the International Committee for Journalists (ICFJ).

In a statement announcing the award, the ICFJ lauded Ressa as an "intrepid editor and media innovator who holds a spotlight to the Philippine government's bloody war on drugs".

According to analysts, Friday's move is being seen as a thinly disguised attempt to stifle press freedom in the South East Asian country, CNN said.

Freedom House, a US government-funded NGO, released a report earlier this month that found internet freedom had declined worldwide for the eighth consecutive year.

Of 65 countries examined, the Philippines suffered one of the biggest drops in a point-scoring method that assesses internet access, freedom of expression, and privacy issues, according to the report "Freedom on the Net".

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