Behind the Pandora Papers. Global Journalism Seminar with participating journalists
12:30PM Dec 1, 2021
Hello, and welcome to the Reuters Institute for the Study of journalism and the global journalism seminar series. This is the last one of the term and in fact the year and we're really pleased to have this particular panel to cover the bigger story of the Pandora papers. The Pandora papers as I'm sure most of you are aware, it's a it's a cross border collaborative project coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who gained access to more than 11 point 9 million confidential files, and a team of more than 600 journalists from 150 news outlets. This team spent two years sifting through the documents cracking down sources digging into court records and other public documents to frame these stories. The lead records they were working with came from 14 offshore services firm from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore notes the client often seek their financial activities in the shadows. It's an extraordinary complex project and today I'm delighted to have three key players, first of all, will Fitzgibbon senior reporter with the ICA J. And the coordinator of the ICI Jays partnerships with journalists in Africa in the Middle East. Will was part of many the ICI Jays largest investigations including the Panama Papers, the FinCEN files and the Pandora papers is Pandora stories referred to the corruption in the Dominican Republic sugar industry secret assets held by the Kenyan President Kenyatta, his family and the tactics of American tax havens. Amongst others, he helped coordinate the coverage as well. Elyssa Lopez from the Philippines has been writing stories from Manila since 2015. This is the first biggest project of this kind that she's worked on. But she reported for the Philippine editions of entrepreneur and Esquire magazine, and the Hong Kong based newspaper publication South China Morning Post. She's currently set contributing to the 30 year old nonprofit media organization, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and her Pandora stories revealed an undeclared offshore company owned by the transport Secretary Arthur guardi and Umar Cheema from Pakistan is a veteran of these kinds of projects and investigative reporter for the Pakistani newspaper the news in 2008. You wanna Daniel pilf journalism fellowship becoming the first poll fellow to work at the New York Times. His Pandora stories revealed more than reveal more details about how fake diploma operation worked with a banking regulation and found links between the Prime Minister Imran Khan's address and to offshore company registrations. Thank you and welcome to all of you. Thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you. Well, I'm going to start with you as the coordinator of this project to give a brief overview as brief as you can be, on on on on the Pandora papers project and how you compile the team and how soon you realize you on how soon you understood what you were looking for.
Thanks very much Mira and thanks to everyone at Oxford for the invitation to speak about this. I think the first thing to say about the Pandora papers is we couldn't have done this. If this was the first time we've done this, if that makes sense. Pandora papers was possible because ici J and many of the journalists we worked with, including uma including members of Ulisses team had worked on similar projects before the Panama Papers, the paradise papers and Swiss lakes. And all of those projects really had been growing in scale and size that enabled us to do something like the Pandora papers, which was more complex in the data that it represented and more complex and potentially more unmanageable in this scale of the collaboration. 600 journalists is a lot of reporters. Add to that the fact that we could not meet in person as we usually try and do because of COVID-19 really meant that it it could have been a huge challenge. Thankfully iCj has an experience. With this and the technological tools in place. That mean that really as soon as we got the documents and soon as we realized, oh my goodness, 12 million files. That's far too much for any one newsroom to go through. We were able to put in place the motors that ICI J has become accustomed to putting in place and we can go into those specifics later. But you know, from a practical perspective, and in terms of anyone out there, thinking how they can do an investigation of this scale themselves. My advice would be good luck, but don't try and bite it off all at once.
Start here and listen let me go to you because this is the first time you've worked on the with the ACA J on this scale project. What was your Tell me a little bit about how you came on board and what you did and what you're thinking what you know, what you were feeling as you joined?
Yeah, the first time I heard about this, I was shocked, surprised than excited to dig in and start you know, investigate in looking at potential people that we can find. At first, I was honestly overwhelm, will mentioned about the technology that AIG had, I think a big part of what made the work so thrilling, but also, well, not easy, but kind of comfortable, in a sense was because of the technology that they had that allowed a research to move and work so seamlessly. It allowed us to actually think are different. I guess variations of the report that you wanted to check and it allowed us to explore different angles. So yeah, I was very excited, especially as a young journalist to work on this.
Thank you. And remember, this is your third project of this scale, but the IVIG is that right? Yeah, I
have to count I think it's a fifth rather.
Sorry. Um, oh. Did you kind of tell me a little bit of what you did what you did with the Pandora papers and again, what was different in the approach from your end? Yeah,
you know, in terms of size and scale, it was the biggest not for ici J. It's for us as well. I mean, in terms of the Pakistanis, we could find in the papers and diversity we had, because, you know, we found people have, you know, different professions that we didn't have when Panama Papers. But one benchmark that we set in Panama Papers are actually Panama paper said it for us. We we found the children of the sitting Prime Minister in Panama Papers. We did not have either Prime Minister and his family members in Pandora paper. So when there is such kind of league, people start raising hopes and they realize that now, this time, another prime minister is going to be axed due to this leak. That was not the case. However, for the first time, we found that there were several Cabinet members several associates of the Prime Minister, they were in it. In addition to them, and the you know, the sitting bankers, the Prime Minister's finance team members, you know, like finance minister, his tax advisor, they were in it or more to it for the in another first we had some retired generals as well as they, yeah, so, you know, overall, we realize, you know, as my personal experience, I feel, I realized that it was more explosive and it should have a far reaching impact.
How, how did you feel about your safety and the safety of your colleagues? Omar especially working where you are with this paper, did you? Did you feel more? Did you feel safer or more under threat working here than you did on the on the Panama Papers?
Honestly, I didn't have this realization when we did the Panama Papers. When Prime Minister's family was there. I didn't have that realization, but this time during the Panama Papers, we were really much concerned about it and we negotiated some safety protocols and how to approach different targets because we didn't want things to you know, prematurely leak, and people should not realize that who else is in it. So we had a protocol in place in order to mitigate such kind of threats.
Okay, thank you. And, and Alyssa, you know, you're working on this in the in the year that Maria Reza from rattler won the Nobel Peace Prize in a very clear statement that journalism is under threat and needs can very public defending what was the mood in your newsroom and how did you feel about these two issues?
Um, I must say in the course of reporting, we didn't feel the threat. But then after the report was made, I think that's when it made clear how, I guess how challenged and how much endangered the press is because of the threat that was made against us. So when the report was made on the Office of the President of transport secretary, or through the guy they threatened to press charges against us because of the report. Um, so yeah, I think I, we felt that after the report was made not during and first for our report that like me who was who had received or was encountering that for the first time, it was quite unsettling.
What happened and I'm really interested in this and the, the role the IC ij plays will feel free to jump in Yeah. When you do receive these kinds of legal threats as a result of the reporting. Is there is there a kind of is there a protocol What do you follow and do you get support?
Well, I think Umar and Alison will probably be able to speak better in terms of what it means practically everyone should know that iCj works very much on a principle of editorial. Independence. So I Sergej is not editing stories, we're not controlling, who says what as soon as a journalist like who more or less or abroad onto the project, they could write 1000 stories, or they could write one story in the form of a cartoon we don't, you know, we're also limited practically speaking, and for legal reasons by how much we can insert ourselves and be involved in, you know, legal protection matters. What we do do around the world, and I do this a lot as a coordinator of our partnerships in Africa and the Middle East is have early conversations with groups like Reporters Without Borders and tell them Hey, guys, something's coming down the pipeline, please be aware. Here's what we can tell you without disclosing too much. It'd be great if x y Zed systems can be in place. You know, I'd love to hear a listener and emails thoughts on the practical value of what collaboration can bring to to journalists security, something that I often say, but I don't always necessarily have the meat to back it up is you know, we like to think that it's a lot harder for a bully, beat a politician or a billionaire, to go after one journalist when that journalist is working on his or her own, rather than if that journalist is working in a team of 400 or 600. So I wonder if kind of Alyssa and Umar felt that in this particular case, I know in the Pakistani case, because there was lots of international reporting and collaboration including with iCj reporters on some of those stories, that those concerns about Pakistani reporter safety were definitely discussed widely at ICFJ offices.
Yeah, yeah. Well, you are absolutely right. And I realized that this collaboration that not only makes the story impactful, it also is a kind of insurance against threats. And even the pressure I if I wonder, I often wonder that for example, had I been doing it story single handedly if I'm the alone one, over doing it. So the first thing the powerful actors would do, they would approach my publisher and ask him that please stop the story. So when they received a question from ICI, do they realize that now it's beyond their reach? At the best they can do? They can just better answer the questions because that was the only opportunity for them. They could not have stopped it. And you know, absolutely, you know, this is right and the other thing was that incidentally, and interestingly, and for me, sadly, my publisher was also in the Panama Papers. And we he was my biggest concern that how will he react because you know, I thought that if, if we could not run his name, we we we won't be able to run others name because, you know, just authority in the mind that what if somebody would come to know and more to it because it was ethically wrong for us because how could we name the other people? So initially, my publisher was reluctant. He said that he won't, you know, actually, his company was already closed. So he said it's a matter of power. So you know, there is no point answering such questions, but we pressed him on it. And thanks to him, you know, he is very democratic. This is what we found and this is that give us courage to you know, confront him. And finally, he gives the answer so, when somebody would approach him, you know, mostly from the business side business community, because there were many businessmen in it. So they would, they would ask that Omar has sent us a question. So can you stop the name? Can you stop our names? Is there any way possible? So he had a very simple answer. Yeah, that my own name is being run. So how can I stop your names? So in a way, you know, the collaboration helped us a lot just to you know, mitigate pressure from the powerful actors and just naming our publisher that helped us you know, name other people in the from the business community and other the, you know, kind of a person from where we were expecting moderate kind of threats.
Thank you. Thanks very much. Alisa. Could you just talk us through step by step as much as you can, what, what the process was once you receive the kind of legal notices from our two parties team, what happened next, and what's happening to it now?
Okay, um, to be clear, it never materialized. Okay, that's it. Um, they just posted this statement on their Facebook page that they were the intent to do such and such but it never materialized. So when it was first made public that statement. It was unsettling at first, but then base weeks went by and nothing really came into our office. So that's a relief. But then, yeah, that's great is I mean, I think the threat is there. At first, may editor's even thought that it may be better to have PCI J S byline instead of just my sole name to protect me against these threads, but we believe that the report was made diligently and we did our work very carefully that it meant to have that so violent with my name.
Okay. Um, so to be clear, you've had no kind of legal threats are materialized which is okay. Yeah, that's it. That's a packet. Thank you. Some questions coming in about the actual kind of logistics how you can how you put this network together and this again, possibly stopped well as the starting point. You obviously have a network of some trusted partners that you work with very frequently and then you're bringing people on board. Can you talk a little bit through how you select and prove crucially, how you create this network that's both trusted and secure, so things don't leak or you don't kind of you know, scoop each other.
Obviously, the selection of partners is really one of the most important things that we can do at ICI j if we let in one unreliable or untrustworthy journalist into the ICJ family, then it only takes one reporter to ruin the whole thing, you know, Panama Papers could have been leaked or revealed months in advance or, you know, the data could have been shared with a government agency. So it's something that people like I who work full time at ICI J take very seriously and have many restless lights on. It's also something that we work on long term throughout the year. You know, reporters like Omar have, excuse me, worked with our CIA for a long time. So we know as soon as we get data, that we're going to go back to Umar and say, Are you interested? Obviously no reporter in the world is obliged to work with us. You know, next time Umar receives a call from Schiller and iCj who might would hang up and you know, we might never hear from him again. I hope not, but there's no obligation in this world. What we try and do is kind of identify reporters who share similar values. And those values are of course, being the investigative reporter but being a collaborative investigative reporter, and those things don't always go together. There are many wonderful investigative journalists out there, who I respect highly, but who will openly tell you collaboration just isn't for me. And to be honest, I have enough to do with my own reporting and my own coordination that I don't have time to go chasing after reporters who don't want to do the Pandora papers, right. Second of all, I see ij spends a lot of time trying to expand our membership and our partnerships 600 reporters. Sounds like a lot but let's not forget the Pandora papers still didn't have reporters from many countries in the world. I think of places in Africa or Asia or the Middle East, usually now where press freedoms, significant press freedom curtailments are significant places like Vietnam and places like Singapore even that maybe we don't think of as often, you know, Democratic Republic of Congo, you know, countries that have real media restrictions. I and my colleagues spend a long time identifying reporters throughout the year and communicating with them because to be honest, I want to know that if you work on kind of Pandora papers, you're going to respond to my whatsapp message or to my email. And so I it's almost a bit like dating. In that you make the initial contact, and then you have a period of courtship in which you kind of introduce yourself you determine whether or not your styles and your work philosophies match, and if they do, then welcome to the family. Because the great thing but also the terrifying thing about ici Jays model is, once you're in you're in, as I say, Alyssa didn't just have access to the Filipino Pandora papers, documents, Elisa had access to everything. So if Alyssa and her team wanted to write about Vladimir Putin's friends, or, you know, the President of Ecuador, for example, they could they could definitely do that. And that's a great part of the system, but that also obviously involves a higher risk and a higher level of conflict between journalists around the world. And look, I can assure you, let's not pretend that the Pandora papers and the ICI Jays model works smoothly all the time. There are lots of minor tensions and many World War threes that are always threatening to erupt. But again, because of our CO J's experience with this and because of the kind of personalities of journalists that we have, we usually managed to keep those below the surface.
Thank you. Thanks. Well, no matter if I can kind of go to that go to that. And fake off the image of dating my head and you you're part of network and I'm really interested to know how you then work with other parts of the IC IG network in the region because I can easily see tensions arising between stories that you're working on and then stories that it can Indian partners are working on Bangladeshi partners on and and who manages these kinds of relationships. How does it How does it work?
Yeah, actually, the news manages the relationship the kind of information we have and the one who is really taking lead and where the most of the information is coming from. So you know, for example, if there is an information coming from India, we would we would heavily rely on our Indian partners. And unfortunately, our region is not well integrated, like you know, the Africa or you know, the Latin America. So here a lot of things are the stories are detached, and but we rather become very excited if there is something connecting the region if there is a news that become a source of disconnection. And there we we happily connect, the reason being because it rarely happens and you know, that is a pleasant surprise for us.
Okay, and when it does happen, it just kind of happens through this collaborative model. There's no desert tend to be that the people who've countries that focus, take charge.
Yeah, you know, when we work on it, the you know, the platform that we access and when we contact with each other sometime I realized that there are, you know, many small universes in the big universe. You know, there are different journalists for example, I'm reaching out to a guy from UK, from Canada if there is a story in Pakistan and going there, and if it is in region, I will be checking with the Indian guys and from the Bangladeshi and other guys. So it's really, you know, very fascinating experience. You know, that how this information and how needs to gather information connect us and bring us closer to each other and make us relevant to each other.
Thank you. I would say Mira, if I could just jump in practically there that, you know, when a new partner is brought on from a country, we make it as clear as we can that even though all journalists have access to the right to report on every topic, even when there is a journalist from a country, then they have they have priority, and they are the leaders on any story that comes from that country. So if you're a journalist in The Guardian, in the UK, for example, on you're interested as of course, any journalist would be on a story about Imran Khan's allies for example, not withstanding that potentially huge international story, you work definitely in partnership and really in practice secondarily to someone like Umar because it is his national story. You know, and behind the scenes once again, ICFJ is often kind of doing what it can to make sure that those informal but very important rules are respected because otherwise, otherwise the big boys and big girls would always overpower and that's not what we want. We want the newsroom in Burkina Faso to have just as much weight as the Washington Post.
Thank you. Thanks very much. That's kind of what I was getting added, let's say as the kind of person who came into this network, how, you know what, what, what were the concrete steps that were made to integrate you into the ICJ and build this trust? Because you're being asked to put your own credibility on the line, your own safety on the line here for this network of people, most of whom don't live in your country. So I'd really be interested to know what happened or what your thinking was.
So we'll mentioned about the team behind this project in the Philippines. So that's mascara. Lagen, who led this reporting for the Philippines for the Philippines Pandora papers and she was the one who really briefed me on what it is what it entails to do the tools that needs to be tinkered on because it is quite complicated at times, and the reporting that needs to be made, etc. So there were some steps. And to be honest, I don't think there was like, like a test or anything. It was like I was pushed into it. Like, yeah, that's the project. Um, but I think any journalist would, would be very excited to take on it. It's a very exciting treasure trove of information. And I think the challenge now is how do you like make sense of all of that information and make it relevant to your audiences in your respective countries? And yeah, that's it.
Thank you. I mean, what will you refer to the tools used and really like kind of ask you more about this and put you on screen later. I'll start with you. What are the tools the ICI J provided that you found most useful?
Oh, um, so the ICJ had this platform called any share it? It's the share so on the platform, you have all the PDFs of all the files that we can use, or we can check for verification of all the people involved in the leak. So I think that's the biggest part of the project because it allowed us to you know, manually check all the PDFs and all the emails and Message Threads. So that's been very helpful. And this is the first time I've encountered of encrypted emails. It was quite difficult to get on it at first, but yeah, I got the hang of it. Eventually. They will, you know, see emails and not really see the messages and have to, you know, have a different app for that. So yeah, those have been helpful.
Thank you very much. Well, can I go back to you? So giving selling real estate secrets, but security killer, can you talk us a little bit about both, you know, how, where the database is hosted how it's shared, you know, amongst contributors, how you protect sources in the network.
So like Alyssa said, you can't work on an IC ij project now unless you know how to use encrypted email. So anyone out there listening to this panel, familiarize yourself with how that works. These days. It's easy and it's free. Although as Alyssa said, at least for the first week or so it does make you want to pull your hair out but you get used to it. So once the journalist has that we are iCj, onboard them to our secure databases. There are two of them, really one of them, like Alyssa said, where the 12 million leaked files are hosted. That's accessible only through password and through multiple layers of security, including two factor authentication with Google for example, at iCj, we have an IT specialist whose job really is to help every journalist who needs to get on board with that. And then the second database that we have or platform really is the collaborative platform, a bit like a Facebook for journalists, where reporters are encouraged, encouraged to share all of their findings so that as soon as you find the name of the Minister of Transport in the database, you share that with the global team. For a number of reasons it helps motivate us all it helps us with the story to get the global kind of politicians involves it also allows the reporter to ask help them questions in London or France if there's an international connection. So security obviously is crucial to all of this. It all starts with encryption, but then every step along the way reporters are helped by ICFJ we also as much as possible, try and avoid WhatsApp where we can these days. I don't know how widespread that is across the world. And I know that there are different geographical preferences, but certainly that's becoming more and more common.
Okay. And have you had any leaks or kind of attacks in your system that have got through
leaks of leaks? I think we were I think after publication were often attacked with denial of service DDoS as I write, that may or may not be related to the investigation from and nothing has happened this time around. To my knowledge. I mean, it's the kind of thing that keeps all of us up at night, right because it only takes one errant email that wasn't encrypted for the whole system to go down. But we Ico J has half of IC o j really is computer and tech and IT specialists which is probably pretty unusual for a newsroom these days. So rest assured that they are ready and waiting to respond. If something like that happens, but Touchwood not so far.
Thank you. Thanks very much. And question from Alex Murray, one of our janitors and BBC. What What's the balance between using the documents to discover completely new stories as opposed to standing up moving on stories that are already already in motion? And I'll put that to Omar if that's okay to start because I think you've been working on this for a very long time.
Can you say again, please?
What how many of the stories from the Pandora papers were brand new that came about purely because you found the documents and build the stories from there, and which ones were helping you develop or prove stories that you'd already been working on?
Yeah, I think many of them were new. For my for me, because, you know, in a way that the characters may be the same but at times it happens. And there is different information and that is totally unrelated with what we are already working. So that makes it a new story for us. And yes, there were some stories. For example, I delivered some questions in my mind. We were working on a story about a fake diploma mill, you know, operating from Pakistan, selling fake degrees throughout the world. So I was working on it. And there were some questions that are what is their financial system that how do they collect their money and we could find in these papers that they had an offshore company which was used for opening accounts. So you know, that was in furtherance to what, what I was already doing.
Okay, thank you. Well, what have you tended to find in that month, the partners?
Well, I think that's one of the joys of these databases, and frustrations is you never know what you're going to get. Now, there's a point that I always try and make this look everyone wants this data to have their president, you know, their president's wife. They every journalist wants to find the big fish. That's not how it works, and some countries are really lucky. You know, the president of Kenya, for example, the president of Ecuador, the president to like other countries are really unlucky. South Africa, for example. You know, despite many leaks like this has never had one of their presidents involved. It's interesting to see that sometimes that turns off journalists, you know, Elyssa said earlier, that every journalist in the world would like to be involved in this. Unfortunately, that's not true. I spend a lot of my time trying to invite journalists onto this project, telling them about it, setting them up with accounts, and then they'll disappear. I won't give any names and I won't give any countries. But I think that speaks to really the kind of journalism that you need to enjoy to enjoy these kinds of projects. It's not journalism, where the stories are immediately present. You know, you can't just log into the database, find a name and then you know, hey, presto, here's my Pandora Papers investigation. Think that's often because the Pandora papers as the question suggests, sometimes they'll provide 5% of new information to a pre existing theory or story. Think about the Pandora papers story around the alleged girlfriend of Vladimir Putin. We only found her name because a previous Russian investigation from a different media outlet had named her publicly so we took that name entered into the Pandora papers. And to our surprise or maybe not given how pessimistic you are about Russian offshore wealth, found that she had a luxury property in Monaco, for example, but we never would have found that had a previous investigation not been done on her. Other times. Of course, this data actually isn't just about tapping in names. You know. I spent some time reporting on the United States as a tax haven and I did that because I was interested in South Dakota. And I didn't know who or what was using South Dakota but I spent weeks researching a geographic location and a city and then building up my own database of who was using South Dakota as a tax haven. And so I didn't go into that story with any particular pre existing ideas about names of individuals, rather, the story came about through a theory or a hypothesis like we all have as investigative reporters. So I think in answer the initial question, it's really both. What's wonderful about these leaks is they can help advance existing stories. We all want to find the answer to the mystery of, you know, where did President Marcos his billions go? Or, you know, where did all of President sunnier batches, billions go and if we could find a new shell company about President and butuh in the Congo, that'd be great. But it's equally as wonderful to find an entirely new line of inquiry, as we often find, you know, politicians who have never declared what they've earned as elicited for example.
Elyssa Yeah, I mean, what what what what are you gonna carry on with, on working on that's related? To this? Well,
you so, we're still hoping to work on another story about the leak, or about the document we found on the leak, but we're not gonna say anything yet about it. But I would just want to jump on what will mentioned about the frustrations, because for weeks, he actually didn't find any politically exposed persons from the Philippines and the, you know, ma'am, a week, a few weeks after he found Mr. Daaga in the league. So I think it's a combination of luck, and just really being diligent on the research. He mentioned about creating your own database and then just searching for the needs there. I think it's also important to have, like initial research about the climate or about the politics or your environment of the country that you're trying to report on. Having that strong sense of research and background really helps in developing stories when you have these kinds of pics
with The Goddess story. Were you looking for his name in particular or did how Tell me a little bit about how it came about how you found it? Why you why you found it really like what what were you looking for?
Yeah, so um, when they I wasn't really looking for him. I was checking the names of the Cabinet members of our president, current president president to the good that they're there. So he's one of those. He's the transport Secretary of currently. And at first I was looking at Davao City, because that's the hometown of Mr. President that there they when they found the vow, there were other files that came up with Philippines on the documents. And then one of the documents I found there was Mr. Tagada. A document that pointing to him, so he knows sometimes the documents just show up like that out of just research on certain different topic and then you're you found this, I think it's really just luck sometimes.
The harder you work, the luckier you get. Yeah, that's true. But a question to all three of you again, about about the data, how easy is it to clean up the data and you know, when when it arrives and really fascinating to what state it is in when it arrives and how much time goes into sifting it and then how easy it is to scrape data. And Omar has, you know has it is it hasn't been different. You mentioned the sawmill comp is far more complex than the Panama Papers but whether the tools of a better or P journalists have got better at knowing what they're looking for.
First of all, it's really it's quite an addictive experience because I can only say that had it not been published yet. I would still have been exploring it because all the time even when there is a news one wonder if there is somebody in the spotlight. I tend to check his name if he is there or not. So sometimes there is kind of fishing some time you you just do the target search that if you have some idea in mind or if you got initial information from it and you keep exploring it less there is something that we are missing. So you know overall, it was you know, it was user friendly. And yes, I think that when I compared it with the Panama Papers in Panama Papers, there was a there were kind of zip files as well as you know, if you there might be multiple and if you get to the last one, quite likely you have all the information in it. And here it was different but what I found it was more informative. And sometimes there were some very candid conversations going on and detailed information which was not the case then. But overall, you know, when you have not something to do, you are taking into it when you have something to do you are digging into it. So you know it's really a time consuming but at the same time it's not boring. You know, it's, you know, just a deep fishing. And you know, all the time I realized that and I still cannot say that. If I was able to you know find all the people who I want were looking for so quite likely there might be someone I had missed and they might have some companies there might and they may might not be there but you know, they they must have some traces they must have some links with what we already found.
The mirror I'm sure that we haven't found all of the important people or stories I found a former US Prime Minister of Somalia a few weeks ago, long after publication and obviously we had a lot of effort put into trying to find former and current heads of state or country leaders. So we missed that one. You know the data and we shouldn't make it sound as though this data is easily structured or simple. Just search right the data is dependent on how the leaked material comes to us. As you said in your presentation. This is from 14 Different offshore providers. So that means 14 Different companies who each have their own management and archival systems. Some of them a well organized, some of them have spreadsheets, like the president of Congo that says he owns this company in the British Virgin Islands created in 1999. Other companies didn't have well managed archives, and sometimes where we rely on handwritten information. You know, I found Elton John the singer because I was searching for the West African country of Togo, because Elton John used an offshore company to own logos and logo in the computer system was read as Togo. So, there's always a bit of chance there. And you know, I think let's remember to the when Alyssa says something as modest as I found the transport minister. It's also not just that, right? It's finding a name but then spending time understanding what does all this mean? What is his name on page seven of a document actually tell me about what he owned when it was created, what it was used for whether or not he actually owned it, because saying someone owned an offshore company is actually much more significant and much more legally important than saying that they had an interest in or they had shares. And so we as reporters spend a lot of time going through my new detail to really put all of that together. We don't just stumble across these things as much as we might like
to. Yeah, I got that very clearly. That's what I was kind of saying like, how do you know what you're looking for? And I think you need to come at it with a huge level of expertise being held in your mind all the time.
Right. And that's one of the good things again, about collaborations because I could ask Umar Cheema, is this significant, or I did for Alyssa Alyssa can you point me to the Filipino law on that requires a minister to declare their interests for example, because if that doesn't exist, the story then becomes slightly different, doesn't it? Or Alyssa can ask me you know, what does a trust in South Dakota actually mean? And what are its practical advantages from a tax perspective? So there's lots of information sharing going on to
Can I get lots of questions, but just the very specifics of what data tools you use. So using data share, like Google or is there and if you don't use whatsapp are you using a using signal or telegram? What are you using instead?
Mostly your signal. Yeah. For us. Yeah. Yeah, me too.
Yep. And do you tell it? Do you send out recommendations or do you tell people? What if
we make suggestions, we can't control anything and look, and I work with a lot of reporters in Western Southern Africa where I think WhatsApp is more common still. So you know, I'm not gonna lie and pretend that I own the signal. I have a lot of one chat WhatsApp chats going, but certainly when it comes to sensitive things, we try and move it over to signal and it's been interesting to see how quickly that's been taken up, at least in the work that I do. Not sure about other parts of the
world. Yeah, same here. And what about workflow, what do you use as a dashboard for the workflow?
Well, because everyone's editorially independent, really the only thing so when journalists agree to participate in an Ico project, they agree to three things really. One is to not disclose the existence of the project, to not share the data with any other reporter. Unless that reporter is officially part of the ICO J team. To be collaborative, that is to not go silent, and to not publish anything before about the investigation before the universally agreed publication. So that means even if you have a really important election, one month before October three, the Pandora papers deadline, you can't use anything from the leaked data for that. Apart from that, it's really up to every journalist in newsrooms to determine their own editorial process. If you are well organized and have time management processes. That's great. If at many of the journalists, we work with just one person in their country, often working out of their living room at night because they've got a full time job in a newspaper there, and they're kind of doing their own thing. So there's no real there are no real rules around that and there couldn't be and that's another reason why it's a marvel that this kind of investigation works the way it does.
So it's basically data shared kind of share the collaborative element of it. Various messaging apps, mainly signal, not always and encrypted emails, and those are the three kind of things that you're using to hold. That's really, really interesting and of course, the database itself. That's really interesting. Thank you. You touched on this well, but I'd really interested again to know how it seemed from Omar and Melissa's perspective, the idea of gatekeepers so with offshore companies, you know, Britain is some pretty popular a lot of offshore companies are somehow channeled through here. And then you've also got a network with some bigger, much bigger media organizations. How able do you feel to hold your own and to stop that, you know, stop the presence of gatekeepers developing where if someone says the story has to come through me because it's gone through the UK courts or because we're the Guardian and we're much bigger and we can we can pull this off. On You know, we can we can write a more nuanced or more story bringing in more more actors, because we have more resources to have, you know, how do you feel the two of you and I'll come to well, but then how do the two of you feel as part of this network?
I think being in collaboration, you know, that makes your mind that there is nothing you have in exclusive you have to share with others. And it's kind of experience in itself that, you know, this is a collaboration that teaches you that how united we can make a great impact instead of doing it single handedly. And then you know, also the information the kind of information that depends that, for example, there may be information about an individual he is Pakistani, but the story is also relevant for the British journalists because you know, they have their properties at stakes there. But it depends that what kind of information they are interested and the kind of information I am interested. I think overall, you know, just the feeling that it's it is making your story and international and it has, you know, it will be splashing in more than one places. That is there is also a sense of, you know, power you know, the power of journalism, that you know, and it trains you and the kind of environment we live in. Initially, I didn't have the idea, you know, about this cross border investigation, but now I realize initially, I used to think that, you know, every crime starts from Pakistan and it ends in Pakistan and this is even how the law enforcement tends to think and a lot of times they have problem gathering information from other places. But now more I get into it further, I realize that the journalism is the answer even you know, that they can have access information through record, see the collaboration that even the law enforcement doesn't have. So you know, I didn't have that feeling but you know, rather I wanted for example, if there is a story about if there is a UK journalist have interest in it. I was happy to know, for example, we were doing a story about you know, the Pakistanis who had properties in a London and they were bought through the offshore companies. And Pakistan was Pakistan is ranked at 5/5 position, you know, in terms of the properties they bought, and the British were, of course, the number one and but we were not lagging behind. So the story was interesting. So the only concern we had in such a situation that there should not be conflicting the timing, so I must know that when it is being run by BBC or guardian, so that we should coordinate accordingly. You know, we should not be you know, running behind them. So, we should be at the same time and at the same page.
Thank you. Thanks. Listen.
I yeah, um, I want to echo what Umar said, that is actually excited to collaborate with other partners. Um, there was a time that we thought there was a possible collaboration between another institution from outside of the Philippines with easy ij. But then, as Omar said, sometimes the the crime Well, the crime ended up in the Philippines but it never materialized. We tried to look into it here in the Philippines, but unfortunately there were no more other sources who can give me more information. So yeah, it it. I mean, we were in the thick of our reporting also for the stories that we're going to produce for the Philippines but even then, we still need time to kind of help this institution to find possible links here in the Philippines. So it actually made me remember or if minded me of the Spirit when you have in college, you know, when you're working on the school newspaper, and everyone's just collaborating and doing something for the for a story. It's all collaborative work. It felt like that. So yeah, I think that's fortunate for us.
Thanks. We'll do
I don't have anything to add
to that. Me. Thanks. Thanks us both lovely. From both of you and really, really painted a really wonderful picture. We've got a few minutes, I'm going to ask him about impact. And I'm also sort of staying with you, Alyssa and then but I want to ask all three of you. What elicit this question from the audience about the impact of the Pandora papers in the Philippine elections. And do you know what impact do you think it had? And do you think that the Jakarta story in particular made a significant impact in that it he didn't run? You know, did it stop his run for Senate seat?
Oh, yeah, um, I wouldn't say the story itself is what prevented or what influence Mr. To goddess decision not to run for Senate anymore, but I think it's worth noting that the story was made public on the week that politicians were filing their candidacies for elections in 2022, and two days after the story was made public, he decided or he announced he decided not to run anymore. So yeah, that's a development. But policy wise, unfortunately, there hasn't been much clamor from any groups any authority or any any government agency to make some changes on how we handle this kind of news or this kind of secret, secret havens. You know, having politicians keeping these kinds of offshore investments and I think that's a challenge for us journalists to make it more relevant or audiences that governments and institutions will be forced to make some changes. Yeah,
that's really good ones like how do you how do you stay on the story and what are you pushing for really, you know, we're not Yeah. Should we be pushing for policy change? And what do we what are we publishing for? Will? What how do you kind of deal with that at the ICI J a sense of what's the story being published for and what how are you measuring impact and outcomes?
Well, it's existential for us. Yeah. J really because we put our entire organization and resources into this one investigation. We have funders who understandably want to know what the heck we've been doing with our time for the past two years. I think impact is always comes in many different forms and one of the big concerns and questions we had about Pandora papers would was how it would compare with Panama Papers. We all remember scenes in Pakistan where protesters were in the street, or the almost immediate resignation of the prime minister of Iceland, for example, that obviously didn't happen this time around for a number of reasons that I think would be worth studying. You know, I'm my sense, and I don't know what Alyssa uma sense was that I think politicians are smarter. Now, somewhat, terrifyingly, about these kind of exposes when the Panama Papers came out. I think we caught a lot of politicians flat footed who didn't know how to answer the question intelligently. This time around. There was some very smooth responses. The president of Kenya coming out thanking journalists for the Pandora papers, praising transparency and then flatly refusing ever to answer any questions about the actual substance in the first place. Which is pretty remarkable. You know, I get to go back to what I said. Impact takes a number of forms. Some countries like the United States have acted more after the Pandora papers than they did after the Panama Papers. We've seen draft legislation in Congress already, that would introduce new restrictions. on people who help wealthy people use tax havens, for example, that would be significant. We've seen obviously political ramifications in countries like the Czech Republic in Chile and Ecuador so far. I would also say my experience in this line of reporting has also taught me to take the long view that it takes months and actually years really, for people to be investigated people to go to jail, and for countries to recoup or recover millions, if not billions of dollars from these kinds of expos. It's in some ways, the Pandora papers is the starting gun that kicks off a lot of activity by governments around the world that we're not going to hear about for months or years to come. We know that governments are desperate for this information. ICFJ got calls from almost every tax office on the planet in the days after the Pandora Papers investigation. Just to reminder to everyone we don't share the data with governments.
Now. My next question what you get the call?
Well, we believe and it's true that there are you know, governments have a lot more power and resources than us little journalists anyway. And they also have or should have structures in place that allow them to exchange this kind of information. This information is obtainable through other means through official channels. And you know, and it says something seriously, it says that something seriously wrong with the world. If the government of Pakistan or the Philippines or the United States of America can't obtain financial records about its own citizens because it exists. It's really just a question. Of will laws in place that should allow that to happen.
Thanks. Um, I kind of put that question to you there well raised about the difference in impact between the Panama Papers and the Pandora papers. What's your perspective?
Yeah, I think will has rightly pointed out and you know, I have a big difference in terms of the interpretation here. And according to well, he realized that the politicians have become smarter this time, you know, to preempt such kind of news. I think that now the world has increasingly become more authoritarian what it was in Panama Papers, then there are the institutions were relatively stronger than they are no, no, you know, these are the authoritarian rulers. They are very good. They are populist and they are very good at capturing the narratives for example, even what happened in Pakistan. The Prime Minister tweeted that, you know, I had always been demanding there because whatever happens he says that this was his previous has. This has been his demand for a long time. So a commission was set up that it would investigate and but nothing has been done so far. And if the history is any guide, I don't realize it will be done. Unless some information is needed, in order to target someone so they will pick it and you know, weaponize it for resettling pretty political scores. Otherwise, you know, in terms of awareness, there is a lot of awareness compared with the Panama Papers. But in terms of action, this time the government is lagging far behind. And ironically, this government is the one which use Panama Papers, just to you know, for political gains, and to you know, they thought that the Prime Minister thought that Panama was a godsend opportunity, but this time, I don't know you know, who has sent this opportunity to him? He doesn't. He was not in need of that.
Do you think the public are reacting differently to these experts as again, from impact on Philippines because we've seen demonstrations and a real kind of wave of anger with the Panama Papers. The Panama Papers comes at a very different time that I think the pandemic we don't really have time to discuss, but I think, you know, the, well firstly, you couldn't demonstrate on the streets in many countries, but also the mood and attitudes towards government has been different.
Yeah, you know, actually, we started publicizing the news that something is coming. So it was 24 hours before it was made public. So there was a lot of hype about it. And then there was a false positive address of our prime minister because somebody else was having the same address. So we had sent him the questions. That was not part of our story, but they made it they try to leak it beforehand, they realize that it's Tories coming about them. So that doubles the impression people realize that even Prime Minister's name is also in it. So when he was not there, you know, many people started complaining that y prime minister is not and name is not there, I said that you know, I cannot I have my own limitations I cannot include or exclude any name. So, in the present situation, because there is hyperinflation and unemployment, joblessness. So, in such a situation, people thought that this this kind of expose, they could be useful for a kind of governmental change, and for them, it didn't help.
Donald Trump's tax returns Jerry Elyssa, what's you? Still on mute?
I think it kind of different the how it was received by the audience with how the news came about here. So it came on the week that the filing of candidacy for the upcoming elections were happening. So there is too much news on that week. So it was kind of, I guess, not the mean story that we are, but then I think it started some conversations about certain people, and it made well some of our audience or some of the members of the public to think twice about certain personalities.
Thank you. Thanks very much. We'll certainly want to jump in on Yeah. Obviously,
in a number of countries around the world there was less surprise and previously and that I think, is in fact tribute to some of the work that journalists have done over the past few years, journalists and others, of course, because many, many more people now are fluent, at least in the basic language of offshore company, tax haven, you know, that kind of thing. That puts a much bigger responsibility on journalists to work harder to tell these stories. And really, another of the criteria that we look for in choosing partners to work with us on this project was those reporters who were interested in and willing to tell stories, in a way that wasn't just here's a politician. He's named in the Panama Papers, end of story that I think is one of the more harmful things that we could have done in publishing the Pandora papers. So it really meant that narrative storytelling became a lot more important. It meant that going two or three extra steps in making connections with outside documents, you know, what are the legal requirements of the politician in declaring accompany, did he she or they do it that kind of thing? You know, it was I found that this time around actually a lot more demanding as a reporter to identify the stories that might be of interest and then to report those stories. Because we knew that we couldn't rely on that novelty as much as we had in the past.
Thank you. It's been really fascinating. I think it just kind of opened, well opened the Pandora's box, but really showed us the inner workings of what was an absolutely terrific project that was really needed. This year to remind people, as he said, a matter of the power of journalism and the importance of journalism. And also in a year when community and networks have been so hard to come by. It's been really heartening to see that you've managed to build one again, like you said, without the in person contacts that normally feel this and quite remarkable, really, that there's been so much trust and so, so few disasters that could have happened in this kind of network. Thank you all for your time. Really appreciate the hour you've given us. And thank you all listening and from all around the world as well. This is the last one of the year we'll be back in January with the seminar series. And so wishing you all kind of a very peaceful holiday season and wonderful new year as well. And Alyssa will no more. Thank you again. Thanks. Thanks, everyone. Bye bye. I