Whistle blowing: exposing politicians, the rich and powerful


THE International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is a global network of more than 190 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories.
Founded in 1997 by the American journalist Chuck Lewis, ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity to extend the Center’s style of watchdog journalism, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: cross-border crime, corruption and the accountability of power. Backed by the Center and its computer-assisted reporting specialists, public records experts, fact-checkers and lawyers, ICIJ reporters and editors provide real-time resources and state-of-the-art tools and techniques to journalists around the world.
Recent ICIJ funders include: Adessium Foundation, Open Society Foundations, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Fritt Ord Foundation, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The Ford Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts and Waterloo Foundation.
To release its findings, ICIJ works with leading news organisations worldwide. Its stories have appeared in more than a dozen languages and with such partners as the BBC, including flagship programme Panorama, Le Monde (France), El Mundo (Spain), El Pais (Spain), Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil), Le Soir (Belgium), the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Stern (Germany), The Guardian.
The latest report from ICIJ has exposed how several powerful politicians, their families, businesspersons and celebrities have been hiding their wealth in offshore accounts. According to a German paper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, all started with an anonymous email in 2015 which resulted in an exchange of internal documents from Mossack Fonseca — a Panama law firm that creates anonymous offshore companies around the world — being sent to a journalist at the paper.
This leak of Mossask Fonseca consisted of 11,5 million documents, including 4,8 million emails. The papers cover a period spanning from the 1970s to December 2015. After receiving the data, the newspaper’s staff — realising the 11, 5 million documents would be too much to take on for one newspaper, brought it to the Washington, DC-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
This week ICIJ and its media partners have begun releasing information contained in the documents. According to a newspaper editor who worked on the project, the tax cheats includes— dictators, Japanese mafia, Sicilian mafia, Russia mafia, weapons dealers, drug dealers and paedophiles. The documents identify 12 current or former leaders and 60 family members or associates. The ‘Panama Papers’ documents detail how rich, famous and powerful people hide their wealth in offshore accounts. Five current and seven former global leaders are named in the leak to the ICIJ.
The current leaders include Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Also named in the full list are former leaders of Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Sudan and Ukraine.
President Poroshenko’s spokesman said Prime Asset Partners, of which he was named as the sole shareholder, was part of a corporate restructuring and had no relation to political and military upheavals in Ukraine.
The Syrian President, Bashar al Assad is linked to the Panama Papers through two cousins, Rami and Hafez Makhlouf, who control key gateways to Syria’s oil and telecoms industries
In Iceland, thousands have protested against Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson outside parliament in Reykjavik, a day after the release of the Panama Papers. Police estimated the crowd was at 8 000 people. The PM faces a possible ‘no confidence vote’ in parliament over allegations that he deliberately hid vast holdings in troubled Icelandic banks in a complicated web of deceit that includes his wife. He denies any wrongdoing and told parliament he will not resign.
Gunnlaugsson and his wife allegedly set up a company in the British Virgin Islands with help from Mossack Fonseca —the Panama law firm at the heart of the leak. The documents show Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought the offshore company in 2007, which he didn’t declare when entering parliament in 2009. The documents allege that the offshore company was used to invest millions of dollars of inherited money. Gunnlaugsson sold his 50% share of the company to his wife for US$1 eight months later.
The papers include a US$2billion trail involving Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, including some of his childhood friends. While Russian Putin’s name does not appear in any of the records, the presence of his best friend and other close associates on the list, imply he could be involved.
There is also embarrassment for Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, whose late father, Ian, is listed as a client of the law firm although there is no suggestion he did anything wrong. The UK’s PM is due to host a major summit on tackling ‘tax secrecy’ next month.
World footballer of the year, Lionel Messi and Michel Platini, the former head of European football’s governing body UEFA, are also on the list. At least three well-known entertainers, including Oscar-winning Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar and martial-arts star Jackie Chan, are also on the list.
With such a long and growing list of media contacts, ICIJ can be a tool that is used to bring down political figures. Given its United States roots, one has to take this “leak” and others with a pinch of salt. With all the corruption and under-the-table deals going on in America, one has to wonder, where are the Americans on this list?


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