New website to assist crime and corruption investigations

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood… if there’s something weird and it don’t look good...

Who you gonna call?

For journalists and civil society researchers seeking information to help expose organized crime and corruption across borders, there’s a new “Ghostbusters” to call on for assistance.

The Investigative Dashboard, a research tool for cross-border investigations from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), is launching a redesigned web site, expanded databases for public searching and a new feature for subscribers that will help crack cases across the globe. The innovation? Humans! A research desk, with librarians, researchers and fellow journalist experts, who will respond to requests for information on corporations and persons of interest related to companies worldwide.

Led by OCCRP’s lead investigator, ICIJ member Miranda Patrucic in Sarajevo, the information professionals include in-house experts and a growing group of volunteers from news organizations, academic libraries and elsewhere who have offered to help international journalists to follow the money trail to expose bribery and corruption. (Read about it here. Full disclosure: I am an advisor to the project and a volunteer expert as well.) ICIJ members Paul Radu  and Drew Sullivan created and developed the Investigative Dashboard. Support for the transnational collaborative project comes from Google Ideas and the Open Society Foundations. How does it work?

On the new site, you can search across a full text database of national corporation registrations and official business gazettes from more than a dozen countries, including Panama, Switzerland and Luxembourg.  For countries not yet included in full, you can browse or search a directory of links to more than 450 external databases in 120 local jurisdictions worldwide, where you may be able to locate information on company shareholders, directors and financial reports. Many of these sites are free or available with registration, although many others require a fee. The directory provides brief information on what’s available in each, as well as language and fee requirements.  These sites have been recommended by individual members of the Global Investigative Journalism Network and investigative reporters around the world.

For Hungary, for example, there are links to the Budapest Stock Exchange business registry, the Court of company registrations (in Hungarian) and the Ministry of Justice business registry (for company reports, in Hungarian). Try Google or Bing translations to make your way through the sites when the language is unfamiliar.

If you can’t find what you are looking for in the do-it-yourself tools, the new feature, “Ask for Expert Help,” sends a request to the expert staff and volunteers who will try to help. To make a research request, first sign up online to request an account for the service; a Gmail address (free at mail.google.com) is required for the online form. Once your account is approved, you’ll be able to fill out a request form for personal help, which should be completed with details on the person or company you’re investigating. The more details you provide, the better opportunity for the researcher to search and find results in the myriad sources of information available to the experts.

The research service is not for deadline requests or lookups; it is intended to help journalists who are conducting in-depth investigations that take them across borders to unfamiliar and difficult-to-locate sources of public records on persons and companies. And the mission gives priority to investigative journalists in developing nations without access to research assistance, commercial databases or financial support. The Investigative Dashboard staff and volunteers will also help locate the public documents you will need to dig deeper and confirm the electronic records.

 Are you an expert? The Investigative Dashboard is recruiting additional volunteers to join the expert crowd of research librarians and journalists assisting reporters internationally. Volunteers’ skills are used to support journalists in difficult circumstances investigating bribery and corruption across borders. This is a project that believes that an alliance between librarians and journalists is a “powerful strategy” for finding crucial information in cross-border investigations. You can sign up to be an expert sleuth at “Be a Volunteer” and join the crowd of CorruptionBusters. 

Margot Williams is ICIJ’s research editor. She will be sharing new online search sites and research tips for investigative journalists here weekly.

 

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