Miranda Patrucic, OCCRP: Police used our work to arrest druglord Darko Saric
Journalists must be allowed to freely access information and the police from the Balkans must improve cooperation. Only then we can talk about a successful fight against crime and corruption that have neither borders, religion, nor nation, says Miranda Patrucic, regional editor of OCCRP in an interview for Inbox7. In the two-day workshop organized by SCOOP – Macedonia reporters learned about the latest trends in investigative journalism and raising awareness of fight against corruption
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Inbox7: What are the most important investigative stories that you personally and the OCCRP team have worked on so far?
Patrucic: The most interesting investigations I have recently conducted are related to Montenegro and we revealed the relation between criminal groups of business and politics in this country that goes to the top of government. Among other things we found that Darko Saric is one of the biggest drug dealers in the region and he has worked with people of the top of DPS, the governing party in Montenegro. We also revealed that some ministers and people employed in some ministries were Saric’s key collaborators. It is the latest investigation I worked on but this is applicable in the whole region and the relation between business, politics and organized crime exists in each of our countries.
Inbox7: Right now, in Serbia the trial in which Saric is charged with drug trafficking is current. How did your investigation contribute to the initiation of this process?
Patrucic: It is interesting. Police often rely on the media writings. Documents that we publish or interviews that we make. Thus, when we were investigating Covic, the man who laundered money on behalf of Darko Saric, we had an interview with him in Banja Luka. Later at trial we understood that the police had been in the same restaurant where we did the interview. The police recorded the conversation and later used it during the trial. None of us expected it.
Inbox7: How difficult is it to conduct an investigation whose focus is uncovering crime and corruption?
Patrucic: In general I am not saying that the job itself is difficult. The bigger problem is the access to information and how the authorities want to hide information from reporters. It is actually the biggest problem. Investigations would last much less time if we could get the required documentation within the time limit stipulated by law. For example, for some of the property in the last investigation we had been waiting all year for the authorities to give us the necessary documents though it was public data. People in power and businessmen certainly have access to lawyers and various agencies that allow them to conceal information about their properties and to hide information from reporters. And the fact that the government is not transparent and does not allow access to information when the reporter requests it helps criminals to do what they do here in the Balkans. The investigation lasted more than a year and we never received some of the documents. Such were some of the financial statements through which we were to determine the path of the money. Also it is difficult to reach the official people who are often not prepared to answer the questions.
Inbox7: The results of all your investigations have great resonance in the public. What changes after the publication of stories?
Patrucic: A little changes in the region. Usually we find out that there is economic pressure. For example the first story that I was working on and was associated with a bank owned by the first family of Montenegro (the family of PM Milo Djukanovic) that is trying to sell it. But for years they have been failing to do it. From what I hear, whenever an investor appears to read the articles in the media, he gives up buying the bank. But when doing a research outside the region where there are governments that respond to media writing and seek to determine what is true, as the example of Sweden where we revealed that their state company paid bribes amounting to over 300 million dollars to the daughter of the President of Uzbekistan, then it caused a reaction so that the Swedish PM wanted answers from the company how was it possible to happen. He immediately asked to conduct an internal investigation and the prosecution also immediately launched its own investigation based on the media writing. The problem here is that politicians do not have the social responsibility towards the citizens who elect them.
Inbox7: Crime knows neither borders, nor religion, nor nation. What is the thread that connects Balkan countries?
Patrucic: There are no boundaries and all criminals cooperate perfectly well. I think a bigger problem is that our police do not cooperate or collaborate badly or have too many bureaucratic procedures in mutual cooperation. As they begin to cooperate crime is already committed and all traces are either hidden or too difficult to discover. The good thing is that journalists now work more on the discovery of cross-border crime and not just the police. What I can notice is that when someone commits a crime, for example companies dealing with the excavation of minerals and polluting the environment or those companies that have forced labor, when they end up in one country they usually transfer to another and do the same there.
Inbox7: Given the fact that journalists work in extremely difficult conditions, how do you assess the situation in the media, especially in investigative journalism in Macedonia and the region?
Patrucic: Yes, it is a big problem. Firstly, because journalists do not have access to information and secondly, because they have no resources to do their job. So if a journalist who has very low and irregular wages has big problems to access information and has problems after the publication of the information and no support from his colleagues or editor, then it is normal that he would not want to work. Journalism cannot be good in a country where there is pressure on journalists, in which there is no legislation that allows freedom of speech and expression. Media ownership is also a big issue. If you have people who own the media and are close to the politics, if you have owners of the media associated with criminal groups, therefore the media will not be able to do their job. Investigative journalism is one of the most difficult types of journalism. One investigation can be worked on for months and now there are very few media and their owners who are willing to pay for those few months. On the other hand, there are foreign donors but therefore we need to develop skills, educate and give space to show what journalists know and work on investigating major cases.
Inbox7: What are the latest trends in journalism in uncovering crime and corruption?
Patrucic: Two major trends are actually data journalism when journalists the opportunity to access a lot of information that authorities collect and they do it in a way nobody else does. They analyze spending taxpayers’ money and suggest what the problem is, what is arguable and it certainly leads to changes. Another trend is certainly following the money, how people hide their properties and how they take money out of the country by feeding the government with a business or opening accounts in off shore companies.