Sleuths Go Global to Crack Corporate Crime

Corporate crime can have as many faces as it does repercussions. Human trafficking, deforestation, poorly built bridges, and heaps of dirty money funneled through banks and companies are all examples of corporate crime unmasked. But identifying patterns, tracing supply chains, and tracking down profiteers can stump journalists and law enforcement officials alike.

“Apply the pattern”

“Criminals put a lot of effort into finding creative methods to commit corruption discretely, without getting caught. That makes it hard to discover,” said Paul Radu, executive director at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. “But they will apply the pattern over and over again, in other sectors and other countries. So once you have identified this pattern you are going to find case after case after case.”

With this in mind, Radu helped design the Investigative Dashboard, a shortcut to the deep web. The portal helps journalists search public registries, procurement databases, news archives, court documents, NGO reports, leaks and grey literature.

“As a researcher, I started to understand how crime works – how you can access, as well as analyze, the relevant data,” Radu, who is originally from Romania, told attendees of the Uncovering Asia 2018 conference in Seoul. “As a journalist at a newspaper in Texas, I got in touch with the human aspects,” said Radu. Since then he’s aimed to combine deep analysis with emotional narrative to produce compelling stories.

“Collaborate”

In addition to individual victims, white-collar crime impacts the wider society and entire economies. One study from 2015 estimates financial costs to be between $300 and $600 billion per year. According to a 2018 PwC survey, 49 per cent of organizations globally said they’ve been a victim of fraud and economic crime.

And yet, “Hardly one percent of corruption is uncovered right now,” said Radu. “The sheer amount of untold stories outnumbers the journalists reporting on them. And I think they always will. We need many more reporters looking into corporate crime – and we need to collaborate. There is no need for competition, really,” he added.

“The long run”

The investigative reporter’s job is to report the facts, but uncovering wrongdoing and not seeing any consequences can be trying for journalists.

“Lots of investigative reporters are getting frustrated when they have published a story and the officials don’t do anything,” said Radu. “You have to look at it in the long run, though.”

In 2001, Radu exposed an adoption agency that was pocketing money meant for improving conditions in a Romanian orphanage. The fees were paid by desperate American couples, which were promised children from Eastern Europe in a fast-track adoption process.

“Usually you have to see the children before you adopt them. But here it was different. The parents would only see videos of a well-run orphanage, when in fact it was not a safe place,” Radu explained. Newborn babies were emotionally neglected and malnourished, often developing emotional and mental problems that the adoptive parents would only learn about after bringing them home. Unable to cope, many surrendered the adopted children to authorities.

After Radu exposed the scam in a series of heartbreaking stories, the people behind the adoption agency fled the U.S. and set up shop in Azerbaijan. Radu followed, exposing them in every country. Still, it wasn’t until 2008 that the person responsible for organizing the adoptions was convicted.

“A bird’s-eye view”

Despite digging in the darkest corners of criminal underworlds for nearly two decades, Radu calls himself an optimist.

“I look at the long-term effects of investigative journalism. It can contribute to the impact of uncovering corporate crime and can ignite change,” he said, calling once again for cross-border collaboration. “Criminals work internationally, so prosecutors and journalists have to as well. It is up to activists and reporters to create cross-border networks and get a bird’s-eye view.”

 

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Finja Seroka is a journalist from Germany who has completed the KAS multimedia program. She has studied economics in Germany and Spain and now also works as a project manager at the renewable energy company Naturstrom AG.

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