This past year we in Pakistan have talked mostly about corruption in high places. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to resign after having been held by the country’s highest court guilty of committing what the Supreme Court thought a person holding such a high office should not have committed.
Currently the former Prime Minister and some of his close family members as well as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar are facing corruption charges in accountability courts. Meanwhile, Jahangir Tareen, former Secretary General of Pakistan Threek-i-Insaf (PTI) has already been disqualified by the Supreme Court for not being completely truthful about his wealth.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is also investigating all those Pakistanis who have been mentioned in the Panama and Paradise Papers.
According to a newsletter of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)signed by Paul Radu, Executive Director, Drew Sullivan, Editor and Journalists and Professionals (2018: Dark Clouds Can Lead toNourishing Rain—31.12.201) during the 2017, the world also watched events unfold with concern and a certain amount of resignation.
The Newsletter said corruption, lack of transparency, and unchecked greed at the highest echelons of global society are widening the gap between the rich and the poor, and weakening the foundations of democracy around the world.
Whether it’s via US tax policy or offshore structures, plutocratic interests are said to be moving more money from the poor and middle class to the rich, from developing countries to wealthy countries, from the commons to the private, and, ultimately, from legitimate business to illegitimate business.
Across the world, transnational organized crime is said to have inserted itself in national political structures and initiated legislative changes favoring their enablers, corrupt politicians. “At the same time, these criminal groups driven by economic interests backed extremist, nationalistic factions stirring hatred and division in many societies.”
Journalists, meanwhile, are said to be systematically undermined by global leaders who don’t want the public to know about what they are doing and their true ambitions.
And as they say, the tellers of truth are always the first victims in bad times.
This assault on journalism is real: 52 journalists were killed this year with 178 still behind bars. That’s not counting the family members of journalists who have themselves been jailed or lost jobs; OCCRP journalists alone report six family members in jail. The atmosphere for free press has never seemed more bleak.
When Czech President Milos Zeman waved a toy assault rifle inscribed with the words “for journalists” at a news conference, it seemed a new low.
As investigative reporters, the OCCRP members claim that they are watchdogs for the public, but as democratic societies face threats to foundational values, their challenges are said to have become challenges for the reporters. When political leaders charge “fake news!” to discredit the media and brand journalists as ‘enemies of the state,’ they license extremists to act in violent ways.
Despite the looming clouds, the OCCRP members appear optimistic and believe the storms of hate, corruption, violence and greed will end and they would play a key role in that demise. They further claim that in its wake may come opportunities for new growth and a reborn commitment to truth and democracy. “In the end, the truth always comes out. Lies and deceit only work for so long. Truth is on our side and it’s a powerful weapon if we wield it well.”
“Our mission is clear: We will continue spotlighting the forces which would bury the truth. The OCCRP is determined to take on the challenges of 2018 because it’s our job. We know we are needed now, more than ever. We are not discouraged by these angry attacks, but instead are reinvigorated by the understanding that more people are being lied to than ever before.
“There is evidence that our efforts are angering the bad actors while inspiring the public.
“In Serbia, KRIK editor-in-chief Stevan Dojcinovic was smeared by the Minister of Defense and pro-government media after exposing the minister’s apartment purchased with unknown funds. In Bulgaria, Bivol’s editors Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov were made the subject of a book and smeared as ‘foreign agents’ because they exposed high-level corruption and government ties to organized crime. But despite these potentially crippling attacks, website traffic for both partners has grown even though tech giants like Facebook work against them.
“In Azerbaijan, our partner Khadija Ismayilova, although freed from prison, remains under a travel ban. She continues reportingdespite mounting pressures against her within the country, including the recent seizure of some of her prize money by the government. Although the Azerbaijani government tried to censor the OCCRP website, the Azerbaijani Laundromatstories got out through social media and other means leading to protests against the governmentin Baku and the release of 16 political prisoners, including the director of Azerbaijan’s only independent media outlet. Despite the ruling clique’s attempts to stop us, the people of Azerbaijan continue to read our work.
“In fact, more than 5.5 million people visited OCCRP’s website, a year-over-year growth of 44 percent. And we are not alone. All of the partner sites hosted by OCCRP saw traffic grow, with more than 24 million visitors viewing more than 84 million pages – again more than 40 percent growth. People are seeking us out and finding the truth. And OCCRP has become, in its own right, a major regional and even global media hub.
“We had some big successes this year. During 2017, we spotlighted global money laundering on an extensive scale with the Russian Laundromat Exposed and Azerbaijani Laundromat stories. We’ve tracked billions of dollars of questionable origins out of Russia and Azerbaijan and we’ve seen how the Azerbaijani regime, in particular, used the cash to launder their reputation with politicians and media in Europe.
“But this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg in a black industry awash with trillions of dollars.
“Our unprecedented alliance with Transparency International in the Global Anti-Corruption Consortiumhas strengthened our impact. The Laundromat stories have led to the resignation of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and two of its members.
“We’ve sparked a series of official investigations across Europe and at the banks involved in our stories. The European Parliament has summoned our reporters to testify at inquiries regarding offshore tax havens, money laundering and financial transparency. In the United Kingdom, public scrutiny is zooming in on Scottish limited liability partnerships (LLPs) which have served as anonymous vehicles for dirty money.
“Anonymous money is anonymous power and anonymous power is a threat to democracy.
“As a partner in the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, we are now looking beyond the borders of Europe and Eurasia. We have editors working in partner organizations in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. OCCRP has truly become a global network. “Because of the challenges ahead, OCCRP continues to raise the bar. Despite the obstacles, we continue to win major awards. Our work featured in the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting as part of the Panama Papers international team. This year, we took home the Global Investigative Journalism Certificate of Excellence for Making A Killing, in addition to the diversity of awards won by our network reporters for their stories.
“There is much more work to do. We must continue diversifying our income so we are not reliant on just a few donors. You will see our attempts in 2018 to do that. We will work to reach a wider and younger audience. In 2018, we plan to highlight our work on reinventing how people access and use investigative reporting. Our work in the technology field will start bearing fruit this year as OCCRP will release a major upgrade of our Investigative Dashboard Search tool. And 2018 will feature another 90 investigative stories. We’re excited about how they might change the world.
“We know that 2018 will also feature misinformation, digital propaganda and spin; hard-working reporters around the world will be despised and undermined by corrupt despots; but we will continue to stand on the frontlines facing down dictatorships, working for democracy, and holding the most powerful accountable.”