Officials say more than $200m is owed by operators in the burial business Ethnic-Chinese community leaders have rejected outright a decision by Malaysian tax collectors to force the management committees of scores of Chinese cemeteries to pay about M$100 million (HK$205 million) in unpaid income taxes. An Inland Revenue Department spokesman said most cemeteries owe between M$300,000 and M$600,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties. They must pay up now or face court action. While many claim it is ridiculous that cemeteries must pay income tax, officials argue the cemeteries are flush with cash from selling burial plots, collecting fees for maintenance and ceremonies, as well as receiving donations from Malaysia's largely middle-class Chinese. They said cemeteries also collect money from visiting tourists searching for their ancestral links while others charge people participating in 'experience the ghost' tours. They also said priests in cemetery temples earn 'large sums' for forecasting four-digit lottery numbers for punters. 'Burying the dead is big business ... the rule is that all income is taxable and cemeteries have income and must declare and pay their tax,' the official said. 'Many never paid income tax at all.' Chinese groups have reacted angrily, saying that burial grounds are heritage sites, cultural or social institutions and should be classed as charitable organisations. The Chinese-language press, guilds, and community leaders back these arguments and are urging the tax collectors not to burden the cemeteries. 'Some of the cemeteries are heritage sites that are over 500 years old,' said the Nanyang Yang Siang Pau Chinese daily in an editorial on Tuesday. Chinese leaders have protested to the government, citing the example of the Bukit China cemetery complex in southern Malacca state. The cemetery contains Ming dynasty tombs going back to 1459, and they said this means it should be a tax-free heritage site. Bukit China is the largest and probably the richest Chinese cemetery outside China and sits on prime land in Malacca city. The Star newspaper reported that the management of one cemetery in Perak owed at least M$380,000, while another in the state had received a letter asking it to pay M$360,000 in income taxes and fines. Deputy Finance Minister Ng Yen Yen reportedly told Chinese cemeteries across the country to draw up solutions to the problem. While the current tax claims apply to a few burial grounds around Kuala Lumpur, Dr Ng said all cemeteries would face the same issue. 'We must find an amicable solution.' She said tax collectors have been advised to 'go slow' with their planned action against the cemeteries. The cemeteries have also appealed to the Malaysian Chinese Association, the biggest Chinese party in the ruling National Front coalition, to intervene on their behalf. Dr Ng also urged the Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia president Lim Gait Tong to collect information from those managing Chinese cemeteries for her ministry to study.