Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

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The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), founded in 2006, is a consortium of investigative centers, media and journalists operating in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Central America. OCCRP is the only full-time investigative reporting organization that specializes in organized crime and corruption. It publishes its stories through local media and in English and Russian through its website. OCCRP is an early practitioner of collaborative, cross-border investigative journalism by non-profit journalism organizations, an approach that is gaining recognition in the United States and now Europe. It is partners with the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) in Jordan, Connectas in Colombia, the International Center for Journalists in Washington, African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting in South Africa and InsightCrime in Colombia. It has worked with hundreds of news organizations including the Guardian, Financial Times, Le Soir, the BBC, Time Magazine, Al Jazeera and other major media.

History[edit]

OCCRP was founded by veteran journalists Drew Sullivan and Paul Radu. Sullivan was serving as the editor of the Center for Investigative Reporting in CIN and Radu worked with an early Romanian center. The team paired with colleagues in the region on a story looking at energy traders in the region. The project later won the first ever Global Shining Light Award given out by the Global Investigative Journalism Network. Radu and Sullivan decided more cross border investigative reporting was needed and started OCCRP with a grant from the United Nations Democracy Fund.

Stories[edit]

The project has been involved in a number of high-profile investigations, including looking at the offshore services industry, organized crime ownership in football clubs, casinos and the security industry.[1][2][3] In 2013, it broke new ground on the Magnitsky case, the largest tax fraud in Russian history, and managed to demonstrate that funds stolen from the Russian treasury ended up in a company now owned by the son of Moscow's former transportation minister. Some of the money was used to buy high-end real estate near Wall Street.[4] US prosecutors have since sought to seize $18 million in property from the company.[5]

It investigated an assassination attempt on a Russian banker which led the Moldovan government to ban the pro-Russian Patria political party from the 2014 elections and the party's leader to flee the country. [6] [7] It also looked at a massive money laundering scheme that moved tens of billions of dollars into Europe using offshore companies, fake loans and bribed Moldovan judges. Some of the Russian banks involved were owned in part by Igor Putin, a cousin of Russian President Vladimir Putin. [8]

It's stories on Montenegro's long-time President and Prime Minister Milo Đukanović led to street demonstrations, his call for removal and intense scrutiny by the European Union and NATO of its membership applications. Two series looked at the cozy ties between Đukanović and organized crime. One series traced the President's family-owned bank, Prva Banka (First Bank), and how the president privatized it to his brother for cheap, moved massive state funds into the bank and then loaned the money out to his family, friends and organized crime on overly favorable terms. When the bank failed under these bad loans, the President bailed it out with tax payer money. The Central Bank said the government lied about repaying the loan simply kiting funds back and forth and claiming the loan was repaid. [9] An second series looked at how the President through his staff kept close relationships to international drug traffickers like Darko Saric to the point of municipalities controlled by the president's party gave almost free prime coastal property to the wanted king pin. It also showed how the Italian mafia was smuggling cigarettes to Italy from an island off the coast of Montenegro that was owned by his good friend Stanko Subotic and controlled by his head of security. [10]


Awards[edit]

OCCRP has been a finalist for three years running for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists' Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting. It was a 2010 finalist for its project on the illegal document trade.[11] It won the 2011 Daniel Pearl Award for its project [12] Offshore Crime, Inc., a series of stories documenting offshore tax havens, the criminals who use them and the millions of dollars in lost tax money. It was again a finalist in 2013 for its story about an international money laundering ring called the Proxy Platform.[13] It won the Global Shining Light Award in 2008 for investigative reporting under duress for its series on energy traders.[14] OCCRP was double finalist for the same award in 2013 for its stories on the first family of Montenegro's bank (First Family, First Bank). It won the award for its stories on the first family of Azerbaijan's ownership of major companies in that country. It partnered with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for a project on tobacco smuggling[15] that won the Overseas Press Club Award and Investigative Reporters and Editors's Tom Renner Award for crime reporting.[16][17] It was a finalist for the 2013 Online Journalism Award for small website investigative reporting and won the 2013 SEEMO award with Center for Investigative Reporting (Bosnia and Herzegovina) for its story on boiler room scams.

Members[edit]

Member centers include the Center for Investigative Reporting (Bosnia and Herzegovina)(CIN) in Sarajevo, RISE Project in Bucharest, the Centar za istrazivacko novinarstvo - Serbia in Belgrade, Investigative Journalists of Armenia (HETQ) in Yerevan, the Bulgarian Investigative Journalism Center in Sofia, Atlatszo.hu in Budapest, MANS in Montenegro, re:Baltica in Riga, SCOOP-Macedonia in Skopje, Bivol.bg in Bulgaria, [1] Slidstvo.info in Ukraine, The Czech Center for Investigative Reporting in Prague and RISE Moldova in Chisinau among others. It is also is partnered with Novaya Gazeta in Moscow and the Kyiv Post in Kyiv.

Journalist Khadija Ismayilova[edit]

OCCRP and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova based in Baku, Azerbaijan became a cause celebre when she was blackmailed by an unknown party with video captured in her bedroom using a camera installed in the wall. The camera was planted two days after OCCRP/RFERL published a story by Ismayilova about the Presidential family in Azerbaijan and how it secretly owned an Azerfon, a mobile phone company with a monopoly 3G license. A note from Russia threatened to show the videos if Ismayilova did not stop her work. She refused and the videos where shown on at least two websites. Ismayilova complained prosecutors were doing very little to identify the culprits who are largely believed to be the government of Azerbaijan. After this incident, Ismayilova went on to publish articles showing that the first family also owned shares in six major goldfields and they owned one of the construction companies that built the new showcase Crystal Hall auditorium in Baku, the site of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. She was detained by state prosecutors in December 2014 of charges that she incited a fellow journalist to commit suicide by denying him a chance to return to a job at Radio Free Europe despite the fact she had no hiring authority. The journalist later retracted his statements on his Facebook page and attempted to flee to Moscow. The arrest was criticized around the world by dozens of governments, media and civil society organizations. Also in December, police raided RFE's offices removing computers and documents and effectively shutting down the organization. Allegedly they were looking for evidence of espionage and narcotics. Some jailed activists were caught with narcotics police allege although activists claim these drugs are often planted by the police themselves.

Its parent organization is the Journalism Development Network, a Maryland-based non-profit organization which operates the organization on behalf of the member centers. Romanian journalist Paul Cristian Radu is the executive director and American Drew Sullivan is the project's editor.

Person of the Year Award[edit]

OCCRP gives out an annual Person of the Year Award to the person or organization who it believes has done the most during the year to promote organized criminal activity or advance corruption. The award is voted upon by journalists who work with OCCRP and its member organizations. The previous and current winners are:

  • 2012: Ilham Aliyev - President of Azerbaijan for his efforts to capture significant shares of many large state and private companies in the country.
  • 2013: The Romanian Parliament for its efforts to add laws making corruption essentially legal for members of parliament
  • 2014: Vladimir Putin - President of Russia for his efforts to make a criminal/political/military/industrial complex and integrate organized crime into state policy

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