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"We don’t regret anything"

"We don’t regret anything"

Almost 400 people in 80 countries contributed to the Panama Papers research. Six of them spoke to us about their experience: some were threatened or berated, and attempts were made to blackmail others to prevent stories from being published. The Russian reporter Roman Anin said: “we knew about the risks, and we don’t regret anything.”

"We were prepared"

Roman Aniin, 29, is an award-winning investigative journalist. He works for Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow daily that it critical of the Kremlin. His main research areas include corruption in the military, government, and business. He has been a member of ICIJ since 2009.

"When ICIJ sent its request to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, his spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, commented on the letter at a daily briefing in Moscow. Peskov told journalists that the Panama Papers were an attack on the Russian president. The same day, all Russian television channels (which are mainly controlled by the government) attempted to blackmail the journalists who worked on the project. When the Panama Papers were published, the reaction remained the same. Russian reporters working on the project have been named agents of American propaganda. And yet in the same breath, TV channels have simultaneously covered the offshore companies of Petr Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine. So, in their minds, everything about Poroshenko was true, but the stories about Putin were a smear campaign.

Novaya Gazeta reporters were followed the day before publication. We also know that a number of officials named in the Panama Papers pressured the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta to block the stories. Some of them were really high profile. We resisted, but the pressure is still ongoing. For instance, some pro-Kremlin public figures are now demanding that tax authorities launch an investigation against Novaya Gazeta. They are accusing the newspaper of getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the US authorities, which has nothing to do with reality. Some insiders even tell us that Russian authorities will never forgive us for the Panama Papers, and will shut down Novaya Gazeta.

We were prepared for such a reaction, and we knew that the stakes were high when we decided to run the project. So a long time ago, we made a choice for quality journalism and to tell our readers the truth. We don’t regret anything and are prepared for any consequences."

"We were nervous"

Oliver Zihlmann, 43, is head of the research desk at Le Matin Dimanche, a Swiss Sunday paper. Since 2012, he has headed the research teams for both major German and French-language Sunday papers in Switzerland.

"Generally speaking, in Switzerland revelations about hidden money aren’t generally met with unconditional euphoria. The country has a long history as a tax haven. The population is suspicious of the tax authorities, especially if they’re outside of Switzerland.

For this reason, the Swiss ICIJ team from Sonntagszeitung and Le Matin Dimanche were nervous about the publication of the Panama Papers. After all, Switzerland played a central role is in the FIFA, Russia, and stolen art cases.

Ultimately, in Switzerland politicians responded to the publication in a very reserved manner – in contrast to their counterparts in Germany, France, and Great Britain. Many parties, even the centrist ones, practically dismissed the reports; the general aim was to “avoid overreaction”. That’s why the massive reaction of experts and the authorities was all the more surprising. The investigators’ crackdown was faster and more resolute in Switzerland than almost anywhere else.

Just hours after the details of FIFA judge Juan Pedro Damiani’s business dealings were published, the world football association launched an investigation. Damiani stepped down two days later. Likewise, just hours after the details were published of Gianni Infantino’s signature in questionable business activities prior to his FIFA presidency, the Swiss state prosecutors conducted a raid to secure the contracts.

In turn, public prosecutors in Geneva initiated several proceedings simultaneously. For instance, they seized a painting worth 25 million at the Geneva Freeport, just a few hours after the ICIJ and the Swiss team reported that the painting might be looted art. According to insiders, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority immediately launched investigations against a bank through which the money of Putin’s family friend flowed. At a press conference, the head of the authority – who is otherwise rather reserved – said the research showed that there is “a lot of work left to do”. Even the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the main medium for Switzerland’s financial sector, recommended that banks and lawyers only do business that they can disclose to journalists and the general public."

"The past few days have been like a rollercoaster ride"

Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson, 44, founded Reykjavik Media, an independent media outlet. Previously, he was editor-in-chief for “Kompas”, a televised investigative journalism program. He has also been an investigative reporter for the RUV public broadcaster.

"I heard first of the Panama Papers in early June last year when the ICIJ called me and told me about the leak, and that the PM of Iceland was in the data. I started working on the data in June, on my own and without compensation. I came close to giving up several times, but I managed to continue thanks to support from my wife, ICIJ, SVT, and SZ. The entire time, I was in some kind of bubble. I almost only talked to other journalists who were also working on the data. I helped them with the Icelandic stories and got help with my other stories in the data. I didn’t tell anyone about of work, and some of my and my wife’s friends thought I was being lazy. Some of them asked my wife Brynja: “Isn't Johannes going to find work somewhere?“ She always answered: “Well, he is working on some projects.” I am a very stubborn guy. If someone tells me I can’t do something – that’s always a sign that I will do it.

From the start, I knew about the PM’s links to offshore companies in the data. Later on, I learned that the minister of finance and the minister of interior were also linked to offshore companies. I also found three members of Reykjavik city council in the data, one of whom resigned right after the program was aired on April 3 – this was before the prime minister resigned.

My partner at Reykjavik Media Adalsteinn Kjartansson and I have found around 800 offshore companies with links to Iceland and around 600 Icelanders. If you compare this to the country’s population, it’s a lot. We have found loan agreements between companies and individuals, between companies and banks, and other agreements worth billions of Icelandic krona. The data tells an important story about what was going on in Iceland before the banking crisis, during the crisis, and in the years after. The Panama Papers give us rare insights into the offshore world and how it was linked to Iceland in turbulent times. I really hope some of the stories we publish will give the authorities material to get some of the money that was taken out of Iceland back then.

The last three weeks before the program aired were very tense. I worked with friends and colleagues at Iceland’s public broadcaster to edit the program, interview people, and write the manuscript. Two days before airing, I stepped out of the bubble. The program was ready and other colleagues/reporters at the station watched it. And then they started calling to tell me that this was the most powerful story ever in Iceland. That’s when I started to realize how big this story really was.

The interview with the prime minister was very well prepared. I went through the ethical questions with ICIJ and SVT. We all agreed that this form of interview was necessary. I was very stressed when I walked into the interview and started to ask the PM about his involvement with Wintris. And I was very surprised when he walked out of the interview. At first I couldn’t believe it. But then we made the PM four more offers for another interview where he’d be given the chance to explain his involvement with Wintris. He didn't reply.

I didn’t know what to expect from the public in Iceland after the program aired. The most important thing for my colleagues and me was that the story was accurate and that we told the truth. The public got the truth and reacted – and people were angry when they learned that three ministers were linked to offshore companies.

The past few days have been like a rollercoaster ride. We’ve faced pressure to publish the list of names. And some people, mainly supporters of the PM and the other ministers, have been angry about the stories.

The program’s ratings were very high: almost 60 percent of Iceland’s population watched it on April 3rd. And that is a record for Kastljós. On Monday, the day after the program, the biggest demonstrations in Icelandic history took place in front of the parliament, where 22,000 people gathered and protested against the government and the PM.

The story about the Icelandic politicians was very important. Now, members of parliament have to be more ethical in their work, and they have to declare their interests. Over the past few days, the leaders of the opposition have declared their assets by disclosing information from their tax reports. And today, the finance minister made his tax report public.

Personally, I am very pleased to have been a part of the Panama Papers. I have made friends with journalists in many countries and I know that another great project will come. For me, as an investigative journalism nerd, the Panama Papers are a great example of how important cross- border journalism can be for democracy around the world."

"I was summoned to testify in court"

Hugo Allconada Mon, 41, is an investigative reporter at La Nación, an Argentinian daily. Prior to this, he was the newspaper’s Washington correspondent. He has written several books about corrupt politicians and the Siemens bribery affair.

"Last year, Tuesday, December 8th wasn’t a working day in Argentina. It was a very relaxed day in our newsroom, at least until a member of our team found Mr. Mauricio Macri’s name in the Panama Papers. It was just two days before Macri entered office as the new president of Argentina.

President Macri wasn’t the only big Argentine name to appear in the Panama Papers. Superstar Lionel Messi had appeared several months before, as had Alejandro Burzaco, one of the key figures in the FIFA scandal, who pled guilty to the US Department of Justice accusation that he paid tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks.

Reactions to reports about the three of them were very different. Nobody cared about Mr Burzaco; not many believed what was said about Mr Messi; and Argentine citizens were divided when it came to President Macri.

Many Argentines believed that he had done nothing wrong. Thus, many people argued that our newspaper, La Nación, should have not printed a single line about his appearance in the Panama Papers. At the same time, many others believed he should be criminally investigated, and accused La Nación of downplaying its coverage about the president.

In any case, the Panama Papers shocked Argentine readers, and our articles on the subject were the most read every day. There were thousands of comments on Facebook and the topic repeatedly started trending on Twitter. This forced the judiciary to react and launch criminal investigations against the president and three other people we addressed in other articles. Among them was a former private secretary of President Kirchner, who used an offshore company to invest tens of millions of dollars in the United States.

As a result of all this, President Macri was the lead story on La Nación’s website for days, while we were also writing about the TV giant Fox’s secret role in the FIFA bribery scheme, and even about our newspaper’s owners. And we did so at a certain personal cost, becoming the target of attacks on Twitter – as well as what we believe to be unfair articles from Süddeutsche Zeitung and Le Monde – among other things.

What is more, I was summoned to testify in court on the President’s case, and I did. Twice.

But we moved forward. We cooperated with a great Argentine journalist, Mrs Mariel Fitz Patrick, and a “team of four” at La Nación: Maia Jastreblansky, Iván Ruiz – who found Macri on December 8th – and our “techie”, Ricardo Brom.

So far, the Panama Papers project been the most challenging and demanding ICIJ project I’ve been involved in. We have dealt with wild speculation about what’s “in there” that we have not yet published. But we have also learned a lot about how to work with hundreds of colleagues around the world, how to deal with mountains of documents, and much, much more about the offshore world."

"A new level of transparency has entered public life"

Juliette Garside, 43, is a financial reporter at the Guardian. She joined the paper in 2011 as telecoms correspondent and was previously media correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

"The confirmation came on Friday evening, two days before our coverage of the Panama Papers was set to go live. In the 30 years since it was created, Blairmore Holdings, the offshore investment fund launched by David Cameron's father and named after his ancestral home, had never paid a penny of tax in the UK.

It was a simple line. It transformed a complicated article about an obscure financial vehicle into a story that any reader could understand. From the minute we published at 3pm on Monday 4 April, there was only one question. Had the prime minister personally invested in Blairmore?

On the first day his spokeswoman dismissed the issue as a “private matter”. In the context of the Panama Papers, and years of mounting frustration about tax avoidance, it was an incendiary comment. By the evening of 4 April, the prime minister's team had issued a carefully worded statement saying the prime minister “does not own any shares”. The use of the present tense did not go unnoticed. On Tuesday the prime minister spoke in person to dismiss the story. On Wednesday there was one more statement and a warning challenging the press – the Guardian in effect – to “put up or shut up”. There was nothing much more to print – we had published the key findigns.

Finally, on Thursday 7 April, the prime minister admitted having sold units worth £30,000 in Blairmore, which he had acquired in 1997. The confession still left many questions about the Cameron family finances. On Saturday, the prime minister published a summary of his tax returns for the last six years. A precedent is now set for future leaders and there are questions over whether all members of parliament, and even journalists, should declare how much tax they pay. A new level of transparency has entered public life."

"La Prensa was heavily criticized"

Rita Vásquez, 43, the deputy editor-in-chief of the La Prensa daily newspaper in Panama, used to work in the offshore business herself. La Prensa has a circulation of 40,000 and is considered close to the government. In the end, the newspaper produced its Panama Papers articles at a secret location. La Prensa journalists helped SZ reporters with their research in Panama. For security reasons, Vásquez requested that SZ not show her picture.

"When La Prensa became aware of the scope of the investigation into Mossack Fonseca, we knew it would be the biggest story in Panama since the military invasion.The lawyers who co-founded the firm are two of the most powerful men in Panama. One of them, Ramon Fonseca, was the acting president of the ruling party.

As the investigation progressed, we had our differences with the ICIJ, particularly over the name of the project. We didn't want the attention to focus on Panama, but rather on the bad actions of the firm, which didn't represent the industry as a whole. It is easy for people outside the country to criticize Panama for the actions of a few individuals, but is that any different than holding all of Germany accountable for Volkswagen cheating on emissions standards?Our worst fears came true when the stories broke and Panama was the subject of global condemnation. France immediately sanctioned Panama without even considering that most of the practices described in the data were decades old.

Inside Panama, La Prensa was heavily criticized for cooperating with the project. This was all over social media, and it affected the journalists participating in the investigation at a personal level, mainly because of the project’s chosen name. Until now, this harassment has not stopped.In fact, it even intensified when ICIJ published our names on their website. At that point, pictures of our editor-in-chief Lourdes de Obaldía and our associate editor-in- chief Rolando Rodríguez were published, and they were accused of treason.Even though ICIJ clarified that La Prensa suggested different names for the project, the social media attacks continued. The paper’s journalists and editors have even received physical threats.

However, the wave of criticism has slowed down since the population started to gain a better understanding of the global publications.Now, the population is starting to realize that deep changes must be made to Panamanian legislation.The tide seemed to turn when Panama decided to raid the offices of Mossack Fonseca and initiate a criminal investigation. To us, this shifted the focus back to where it belonged, on the law firm instead of La Prensa.While the situation is still unstable, the actions of the government, and in particular of President Juan Carlos Varela, have greatly reduced the negative tone. We think his commentary in the New York Times, in which he pledged to work with other countries to address tax issues globally and not just in one jurisdiction, had a tremendous impact. He also quickly formed an independent commission headed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist. Its role will be to examine Panama's current system and recommend reforms."