In Brisbane and Ankara, Harare and Quito, Berlin and New York, the Panama Papers investigation into tax haven abuses has been recognized with some of the most prestigious journalistic accolades on the planet.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which co-ordinated more than 100 media partners from around the world — including the Star and the CBC in Canada — now lists 14 major national and international awards in its trophy case for its work on the Panama Papers. The prizes include a Polk Award, the Perfil Freedom of Expression Award, the Data Journalism Award for investigation of the year, the Online Journalism Award for innovation and the Barlett and Steele Gold Medal.
The Online News Association called the Panama Papers series “superlative reporting,” while the National Center for Business Journalism said it was “one of the most talked-about events in journalism history.”
ICIJ partners, including Swedish television station SVT, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and British daily The Guardian, have received an additional eight journalism honours for their reports based on the unprecedented leak of confidential information from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, bringing the total to 22 awards worldwide.
“This is journalism at its best,” wrote the Prix Europa jury. “(The Panama Papers) give great hope for the future (of) investigative journalism in Europe, at the same time as they give us a scary glimpse of the political situation in Europe and the dark forces within the human race.”
British Journalism Award judges praised the investigation, saying it “shone a light in some of the darkest corners of international finance.”
In total, more than 300 reporters on six continents analyzed 2.6 terabytes of data and 11.5 million files relating to 214,000 offshore companies and uncovered secret links to 140 politicians in more than 50 countries.
Calling the project “an unprecedented collaborative effort,” judges for the Maria Moors Cabot Prize wrote that “the series prompted a much needed debate about transparency and accountability in (Latin America) and around the world.”
“The Polk Award and other honours are an important recognition of the value of cross-border collaborations,” said Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ. “Some stories are so complex and so global they can only be unlocked when journalists are willing to share information and support each other.”
Reports revealed anonymous offshore corporations tied to the civil war in Syria, the looting of Africa’s natural resources, and a Russian network with ties to President Vladimir Putin that hid as much as $2 billion in assets.
In Canada, the Star and CBC revealed that a wealthy Canadian businessman was a middleman in what U.S. authorities called a $400 million “corruption scheme;” a Dubai-based Canadian lawyer registered a company that broke UN sanctions and supplied fuel to the Syrian government; and Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin paid $21 million to an anonymous offshore company to obtain business in Algeria.
The Star’s reporting also showed how Canada itself is emerging as a tax haven, used by foreign tax cheats and criminals to “snow wash” illicit funds.
“The Star has a long record of investigative journalism that has brought transparency where there was blackness,” said the Star’s editor-in-chief, Michael Cooke. “It was a privilege for us to play a role in this successful global effort to help bring this multibillion dollar international cheating by incredibly rich people to the front pages around the world. And believe me, this story isn’t over yet.”
In all, the international team of journalists published more than 4,700 articles that “led the U.S. to require that banks identify the real owners of shell companies that open accounts, and led the European Union to create a 65-member investigative committee to weigh tighter money laundering and corporate transparency rules,” wrote judges for the Polk Award.
The reporting prompted the resignations of the Prime Minister of Iceland, executives in Austria and the Netherlands, government officials in Spain and Armenia, and an ethics expert at FIFA. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to explain his interest in a secret offshore fund set up by his father, and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif answered questions about his children’s offshore holdings in his country’s highest court.
One study found the market value of nearly 400 publicly traded companies linked to the Panama Papers dropped by a collective $135 billion (U.S)