Last March, the editor in chief of German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung stood before a room of investigative journalists in Munich and laid down a few ground rules. “The first rule is that we don’t talk about what we’re doing,” Wolfgang Krach said. “The second rule is we share everything that we find out.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung, the outlet that launched the Panama Papers investigation of 2016, had received a leak of more than 13 million documents detailing the holdings of the international law firm Appleby, and once again, Krach was asking for help. The first results of the collaboration that began in Munich were published on Sunday, in a series of stories based on what have become known as the Paradise Papers.
The scene described above comes from a Vice News Tonight documentary (HBO subscription required) that debuted on Monday, but the stories emerging from the work of nearly 400 journalists have already made waves around the globe. Süddeutsche Zeitung, the International Consortium of Journalists, and partners on six continents worked for nearly a year to scan documents containing secret investments by some of the world’s richest people. “We’ve gone from Woodward and Bernstein to geeks looking at vast datasets, searching away ’til the early hours,” The Guardian’s Luke Harding says in the documentary. “It’s the age of the leak.”
Already, the Paradise Papers have revealed how major multinational companies like Apple and Nike hide their money offshore, how Kremlin-backed investments helped fuel the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and how members of Donald Trump’s inner circle are connected to Russian oligarchs. The most notable story for US readers is likely the one detailing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s ties to people close to Vladimir Putin.
Sifting through stories detailing opaque financial maneuverings and shell companies can be stupefying, but ICIJ Deputy Director Marina Walker Guevara argues that these investigations have real-world implications. “This is not an abstract world of corporate structures and numbers,” she tells Vice. “There are real consequences for real people.”
In addition to offering a peek behind the curtain at how the richest stay wealthy by avoiding taxes, the Paradise Papers are an example of the best type of collaboration, a set of methods that becomes more important in our globalized world.
Below, more from the work of the journalists behind the Paradise Papers.
- Where the elite hide their money: The New York Times’s Michael Forsythe explains his paper’s role in the investigation after it decided not to participate in the Panama Papers collaboration.
- Skirting taxes on jets and yachts: Ryan Chittum and Juliette Garside explain how wealthy individuals use offshore havens to avoid millions in taxes.
- Just do it: The Guardian’s Nick Hopkins and Simon Bowers look at how Nike stays one step ahead of the taxman.
- The Kremlin’s interest in Silicon Valley: The New York Times’s Jesse Drucker details how Russian billionaire Yuri Milner’s investments in Facebook and Twitter were funded by a state-controlled bank in Moscow.
- Politicians in play: ICIJ’s interactive feature lets readers explore the investments of politicians mentioned in the Paradise Papers.
Other notable stories
- Ronan Farrow continues to produce great reporting on the Harvey Weinstein story. His latest looks at how Weinstein used an army of spies to intimidate and harass journalists and women who had spoken about their experiences. “Craziest story I’ve ever reported, and a rare professional experience that made me fear for my safety (even including time in Afghanistan),” Farrow tweeted.
- CJR’s Karen K. Ho and Jon Allsop survey media reporters about how they investigate reports of sexual harassment in their own newsrooms. “It’s almost I think at the stage where it’s hard to figure out who to pursue next,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple told them. “There’s just so many calls about so many men being made.”
- CNBC’s David Faber scoops that 21st Century Fox has been in talks about selling most of its assets to Disney. It would keep Fox News, however.
- Tomorrow marks one year since Donald Trump’s shocking electoral victory. Esquire’s excellent oral history offers a look back at November 8, 2016, from the people who lived it.
- For CJR, Christopher Ali and Damian Radcliffe offer eight strategies for saving local newsrooms based on research from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.
- “Something is wrong on the internet,” James Bridle writes in an essay detailing the disturbing content targeted to children on YouTube.