When European lawmakers voted last June to adopt a report on the “lessons” learned from the Pandora Papers, the document started with a clear theme: The first six points acknowledged the pivotal part reporters and their sources play as agents of accountability.
“Journalists and whistleblowers have an important role in investigating and exposing potential violations of tax law, as well as corruption, organised crime and money laundering,” the report said.
“The practices brought to light by the Pandora Papers revelations have an especially severe impact on the fiscal space and public expenditure,” the report continued, highlighting “the importance of defending the freedom of journalists to report on issues of public interest.”
Through 2023, the impact of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ rigorous investigative journalism was seen around the world, from immediate responses like government inquiries and police raids, to slow-burn solutions like new laws being passed or the righting of past injustices.
Here’s a selection of some of the biggest impacts from our investigations over the past year:
Cyprus Confidential: ‘Everything will be investigated’
Within days of ICIJ and its 68 media partners publishing the first Cyprus Confidential stories, the European Parliament convened to debate how to address revelations that the Mediterranean island had become a hotspot for sanctioned Russian oligarchs seeking to shield their wealth.
“The European Union is turning into a gangster’s paradise, because there is complete impunity,” one parliamentarian said.
For its part, Cyprus’ government immediately pledged to probe allegations of sanctions evasion, while authorities ramped up investigations into dozens of suspected cases. In early December, at the request of the Cypriot president, a team of U.S. financial crime experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network were deployed to provide on-the-ground support to local investigators.
“Everything that has come to light will be investigated,” President Nikos Christodoulides said in the hours after the ICIJ-led investigation launched. “The reputation of our country, the credibility of our country, you understand, is crucial.”
Deforestation Inc.: ‘Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement’
From Europe to the U.S. to India and beyond, governments have been steadily making moves aimed at curbing deforestation and greenwashing.
In April, just months after ICIJ’s Deforestation Inc. investigation exposed the way illegally sourced timber and other forest products were trafficked around the world, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new interagency taskforce to bolster its efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute timber trade linked to environmental and other crimes.
“It’s all about coordination between the different U.S. authorities,” one environmental campaigner told ICIJ at the time. “And what we really need to see is enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.”
Since then, lawmakers and regulators have been pushing for and implementing new laws, rules and guidelines meant to clamp down on the trade in goods tied to environmental and human rights abuses, and to ensure that companies which label their products as “green” or sustainable are held accountable for those claims.
Hidden Treasures: ‘It is incumbent upon the Met to engage’
ICIJ’s years-long reporting on the trafficking of priceless ancient artifacts and artworks has been at the forefront of a global reckoning for some of the world’s most prestigious cultural institutions and prodigious private art collectors.
In 2023 alone, dozens of relics have been returned to their countries of origin, including several repatriated to Cambodia, Nepal, India and elsewhere from sources as diverse the National Gallery of Australia, a billionaire private collector in the U.S., and New York’s vaunted Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many of these items were highlighted in ICIJ’s reporting over the past two years.
After an ICIJ investigation in March revealed that more than 1,100 pieces in the Met’s collection were previously owned by people either indicted or convicted of antiquities crimes, the museum announced the formation of a new four-person team to scour its holdings for works potentially linked to trafficking.
“[As] a preeminent voice in the global art community, it is incumbent upon the Met to engage more intensively and proactively in examining certain areas of our collection and to increase the resources we dedicate to this ongoing crucial work,” Met director Max Hollein said in a statement in April. The Met is yet to formally announce a leader for its new taskforce.
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Financial secrecy: ‘You can’t expect instant gratification’
In 2023, ICIJ marked 10 years of groundbreaking investigations into the shadowy financial system that serves the world’s rich and powerful. Those investigations have yielded an unrelenting drumbeat of impact that has steadily gained momentum since the Offshore Leaks investigation was first published in 2013.
Throughout last year, there were police raids at financial firms across multiple continents in connection with ICIJ’s Luanda Leaks and Pandora Papers investigations, new indictments linked to Panama Papers revelations, and even a court ruling in favor of one of the original whistleblowers behind the 2014 Luxembourg Leaks document set. Meanwhile, world leaders have been sanctioned, billionaires’ accounts have been frozen, celebrities have been tried for tax evasion and Russian oligarchs have had their financial secrets exposed and assets seized. As ICIJ continued to build on a decade of uncovering corruption and financial wrongdoing in 2023, lawmakers invoked its exposés in speeches espousing the need for greater transparency and stronger regulation of the world’s financial industry.
Investigations like the Panama and Pandora Papers have also shaped popular culture and become shorthand for perceived injustice, inequality and corruption, inspiring works by artists, musicians and writers. Ultimately, they’ve helped inform public discourse and build momentum towards reform.
“You don’t change ongoing, systemic corruption overnight with a handful of arrests, or even a lot of arrests,” filmmaker Alex Winter told ICIJ on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Panama Papers. “You can’t expect instant gratification.”