Must-read OCCRP investigative project reports

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) is an investigative reporting organization which focuses on organized crime and corruption. The consortium operates worldwide to publish the results of cross-border investigations into criminal enterprises that are often very complex. In many cases the OCCRP reporters are “following the money” to uncover and publicize bribery, tax fraud, and other crimes that are intimately connected to banking institutions and powerful politicians or state-sponsored organizations.

  • Game of Control (2008-2009) – This investigation centered on the involvement of organized crime in owning football clubs. A deeper look at the business of football in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union showed a network extending all around the world that enabled criminal businesspeople to hide their illicit activities by laundering money through football clubs they own, skimming transfer fees for players, and using shell companies for tax evasion and concealment of funds. The investigation uncovered evidence of game rigging, use of stadium property for organized crime operations, and even murders of club leaders linked to Bulgarian organized crime. 
  • The Big Bet (2009) – In this report, the OCCRP looked at the expansion of the gambling industry in Eastern Europe. Countries in the region were providing incentives for the gambling industry to come to stimulate local economies and increase tax revenues for governments, but along with the casinos come all the problems of organized crime and corruption. This investigation probed into the abusive practices of governments in these countries which fail to regulate the gambling industry sufficiently and do not enforce proper taxation, instead accepting bribes to look the other way, and not ensure that the public in these countries receives their share of the benefit from the huge revenues these companies make. 
  • The Panama Papers (2016) – The Panama Papers project was one of the biggest stories in money laundering investigation of recent years. The OCCRP worked on the project in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Suddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper which received a cache of documents from Mossack Fonseca, an offshore services provider in Panama. These documents provided the evidence of the illicit activities concealed in offshore companies set up by Mossack Fonseca, including tax evasion, fraud, and money laundering. Many of the world’s wealthiest people – politicians and businesspeople, criminals and not – were named in these documents. These included Russian, Azerbaijanim and Ukrainian politicians and their families.
  • The Russian Laundromat (2014-2017) – The OCCRP exposed a vast financial fraud scheme enabling money laundering out of Russia and into Europe through Moldavia. More than $20.8 billion was funnelled out of Russia via this mechanism. By tracking the money down to the accounts all over the world where it ended up, the project exposed systemic bribery and activities in the gray area of the Moldovan legal and supervisory system. Some of the world’s largest banking institutions – among 732 banks in 96 countries and including Dankse Bank, Bank of China, HSBC, UBS, RBS, Nordea, Credit Suisse, Citibank, and Deustche Bank – had this illicit money in their accounts. 
  • The Azerbaijani Laundromat (2017) – The most recent of the OCCRP’s reports, like the Russian Laundromat, this details a criminal money laundering operation that used UK-registered shell companies to move $2.9 billion from from Azerbaijan into Europe. This money came from a secret slush fund of Azerbaijani elites used to bribe officials, buy luxury items, and enrich themselves while Azerbaijani human rights were under ongoing assault and citizens were deprived of funds used by their government for their own illicit purposes. Danske Bank was again mentioned as a major banking institution which processed these transactions through their accounts without sufficient due diligence controls to expose the source. This investigation is ongoing and the subsequent movement of the funds and their uses will continue to be revealed. 

OCCRP has become one of the most respected and awarded non-profit media organizations in the world in the decade it has been publishing investigative reports. This is for good reason, as its work has led to the freezing or seizure of billions of dollars of assets, arrest warrants and firings, and closures of shell or illicit companies connected to criminal enterprises. The insights of these investigations cast a powerful light on the mechanisms of corruption which still have a strong hold on business and political organizations all over the world.

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