As soon as governments locked down their countries in response to the coronavirus pandemic, organised criminals started to take advantage of the new restrictions. The situation has created new challenges for reporters who investigate corruption and organised crime.
“The virus is affecting all of us. We are navigating the unknown,” said the freelance reporter Francesca Borri during a panel discussion on investigative journalism in the times of coronavirus at the 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference. “The management and mismanagement of the virus is something for journalists, especially investigative reporters, to investigate.”
We need “a lot more transparency and investigative efforts,” said Paul Radu, Director and Co-Founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). He described a surge in “criminal startups” that insert themselves into the global supply chain. They divert medical equipment and economic relief into their own pockets, defrauding the public and exacerbating the pandemic. These criminals, Radu explained, take advantage of our increased dependence on online services and communications.
“Every time of crisis is a great opportunity for business when it comes to organised crime and corruption,” Radu said. “What we’ve done was to start using our skills straight away, knowing how to follow the money.” A team of OCCRP reporters in Romania, for example, was able to uncover an extensive black market trade in medical masks.
Uncovering and tracking the activities of criminal enterprises is especially challenging with lockdown restrictions, which limit the movements of investigative journalists. “The most important enemy of journalists at this point is the lack of information. That will prevent them from producing high-quality journalism,” said Majdolin Hasan, Regional Editor of the Global Investigative Journalism Network.
Alexandre Brutelle, the investigative programme coordinator for Civil Forum for Asset Recovery, said journalists will need to make use of available tools and funds to produce impactful investigative reports.