The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists teamed up with the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism (Cenozo) to delve deep into 27.5 million files from the Offshore Leaks, Swiss Leaks, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers to investigate how the super-rich in 15 West African countries have looted their countries' wealth and then smuggled it offshore through a network of tax-havens, even as their countries starve.
The resulting package is dizzying and infuriating. West Africa is one of the world's poorest, slowest-developing region, and yet it has produced a coterie of super-rich, super-corrupt strongmen who have spread their wealth out among enablers from the rich world (such as Canada's SNC Lavalin, who laundered millions through Mauritius, depriving Senegal of desperately needed tax funds).
Why focus on this collection of nations? For one, its 367 million people are some of the most disadvantaged in the world, and its position as the tax-avoidance center of Africa means those people are being hit harder still. Experts tell me Africa loses more money to offshore secrecy than it receives in development aid.
The ICIJ team and I have have spent the past six months working in secret with journalists from 11 West African countries, several of which we've never worked in before. ICIJ has been thrilled to partner with them and views this expansion of our network of trusted journalists as vital to the global conversation about tax and the abuse of power.
"I think this experience is unprecedented," journalist Noël Konan from the newspaper L'Elephant Dechaine in Côte d'Ivoire told me recently.
"I am very proud to have participated in this project which, I hope, will allow Africans to understand the actions of politicians and business leaders who lead our countries."
To give you an idea of the conditions some of these journalists work in, one reporter who asked not to be named for his safety is in exile, another doesn't get paid for his investigative journalism and several get by with broken computer screens. (Can you imagine trying to decipher a Swiss banking records with only half a laptop screen to use?) Some have received threatening phone calls during their reporting or come under pressure from corporate executives who appear in the Panama Papers to stop digging – or else have their newspapers' advertising contracts cancelled.
How Africa's Elite Hide Billions Offshore [International Consortium of Investigative Journalists]
(via Naked Capitalism)