A decade ago, when I started writing about money laundering, organised crime and corruption, my editor told me this was sometimes a dangerous job. Aside from a few scrapes with sub-editors and the occasional less then co-operative government press officer, I have had few misgivings about the subject I write about and have never been in any danger (that I know of…).
I do recall once finding a series of internal memos from a multi-national bank that had been leaked on-line. The file was made up of letters, emails and account ledgers with hand written comments from the institution’s compliance officer, claiming emphatically that certain transactions did not constitute money laundering. I quietly showed file to a colleague, who added a healthy dose of scepticism to the conversation. He questioned the file’s legitimacy, it could have been posted by a disgruntled employee, and pointed out to me that as the CO in question had just been announced a member of our firm’s advisory board, it might be prudent not to follow it up. To my great shame, I did not pursue it. Fortunately, several other people did and the CO in question stood down from his post. Unfortunately, I did not save the link to the files so cannot share that with you.
The real heroes of corruption journalism are out there exposing embezzlement, graft and politically exposed persons who abuse their positions whenever they can. Tetyana Chornovol, the Ukrainian investigator who was brutally assaulted by members of the ex-Ukrainian president‘s security force, and her peers have done so in Ukraine and their efforts have borne fruit; a corrupt regime was ousted. Chornovol survived the attack and is now the head of the new Ukrainian government’s anti-corruption bureau.
Gone but not forgotten
Here is a list of prominent anti-corruption writers who have felt the might of their opposition.
Carlos Cardoso, affectionately referred to as the Patron Saint of Corruption Journos by some, is one such hero. Back in November 2000, Cardoso was gunned down in Mozambique. Cardoso published a corruption news letter which he circulated to 400 subscribers from diplomatic, government and business circles. Six men were put on trial for Cardoso’s murder. Journalists in Mozambique were cautious about reporting sensitive stories since then.
Then we have figures such as Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian reporter with Novaya Gazeta, a paper which criticised the Russian government and questioned the sources of wealth owned by rising oligarchs, was shot and killed outside her home in November 2006. Politkovskaya was reporting on the war and atrocities in Chechnya, as well as the sources of ‘new Russian’ wealth.
Aleksandr Litvinenko was poisoned by polonium-210 in London, almost one month after he accused the Russian government of murdering Politkovskaya. Litvinenko, a former secret service agent who spoke out against a corrupt regime in Russia, was arrested and jailed twice before fleeing to the UK where he was granted political asylum in 2000, and from where he continued to speak and write about corruption.
Further back, we have the woman whose work and sadly her death, gave rise to the asset seizure structure employed by governments and the law globally to freeze and confiscate assets bought with the proceeds of crime. Veronica Guerin spent years pursuing major crime bosses in Ireland to expose the real nature of their money making enterprises. She was shot twice and injured before the bad guys finally killed her on June 26th 1996 as she waited in her car at a traffic light in Dublin. Her murderers came from the major drug traffickers in Dublin who she had doggedly pursued, questioning their lavish lifestyles with no apparent sources of income.
Within a week of her murder, the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, enacted the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996, which allowed the government to seize assets suspected of being acquired with the proceeds of crime. This legislation was the blueprint for similar legislation in the UK (POCA 2002).
The title of this blog is taken from the Freedom Forum conference Guerin was due to speak at on June 28th 1996.