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Africa’s offshore secrets revealed as investigations continue

More than a dozen new stories from ICIJ partners across the continent have generated strong public interest and attracted interest from government.

In just over 48 hours since ICIJ and more than one dozen media partners across Africa launched a wave of new reporting on Panama Papers with a focus on the world’s poorest continent, new investigations have generated strong public interest and attracted interest from governments.

The investigations exposed how offshore companies have been used to siphon money out of Africa, particularly in the oil, gas and mining industries. ICIJ found extractives industry businesses in 44 out of Africa’s 54 countries using offshore financial structures detailed in the Panama Papers, including 37 companies linked to court actions or official investigations.

Advocacy groups said the latest round of Panama Papers stories highlighted the serious impact offshore secrecy has on Africa.

“This gives a window on to the murky underworld of secret deals and sham companies that is robbing people in the world’s poorest continent of their futures,” commented the British nongovernmental organization Global Witness.

“Rather than being used to build hospitals and schools, these huge sums are siphoned off through offshore companies, helped by lawyers and other professionals, and then spent on luxury goods and property in the US and UK.”

Oxfam America praised ICIJ’s and its partners’ work, and repeated their call for a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Congress that would bring more transparency to offshore schemes exposed by the Panama Papers investigation.

“The widening Panama Papers scandal shows how urgently we need Congress to pass these common sense reforms,” said Tatu Ilunga, Oxfam America’s Senior Policy advisor on tax and extractive industries.

“The extractives industry has been shown to be a hugely corrupting influence at the heart of many of these scandals. … As a result, some of Africa’s most resource rich countries are also its poorest and most unequal.”

In addition to ICIJ’s own stories, journalists who collaborated with ICIJ have published at least one dozen new investigations with more to come:

  • More than a dozen Panama Papers investigations have been published by ICIJ partners across Africa
    More than a dozen Panama Papers investigations have been published by ICIJ partners across Africa
    In Egypt, the government said it was unaware of the offshore activities of a company with which it signed a lucrative oil deal in the Gulf of Suez;
  • In Togo, cement executives used offshore companies to manage part of their vast West Africa business empire;
  • Kenya’s Ministry of State for Defence signed a contract with an offshore firm that, in the secret files, explicitly stated its purpose was “tax avoidance;”
  • A cousin of the King of Morocco was linked to as many as 30 offshore companies, reportedly used for stock market betting designed for foreign investors, not Moroccans;
  • A mysterious company with no online presence or physical offices in Botswana has been accused of unsustainable fracking in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert;
  • Two Namibian businessmen with ties to an infamous arms deal were identified as clients of Mossack Fonseca;
  • In South Africa, a major bank found itself in a muddle by denying any ties to Mossack Fonseca yet recording nearly 25,000 results in the Panama Papers database;
  • In Mali, a French mobile phone company would not explain why it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a shell company for Mali’s first mobile phone network, or disclose who the money was for;
  • In Burkina Faso, a discreet American pilot of the country’s former president, who quit office in 2014 following mass protests, used an offshore company for a property deal in the United Kingdom;
  • New details emerged in a controversial land deal in Mozambique that may displace thousands of people but about which very little, including the true identity of executives behind the companies, is known;
  • In Algeria, a powerful executive was an early customer of Mossack Fonseca, reportedly in breach of Algerian laws that prohibited offshore holdings;
  • In Niger, the man behind a major transport company who is reportedly close to the country’s ruling political party, used an offshore company to receive revenue from his buses across the Sahara Desert.

More stories will be published in the coming days in Tanzania, Mauritius, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Senegal. Together, this series represents ICIJ’s biggest journalistic collaboration of African media outlets to date. Many of ICIJ’s partners worked in editorial collaboration with the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR).

Some of ICIJ’s partners in Africa have already reported that government agencies have been in contact to express surprise at the level of detail about offshore activity contained within the Panama Papers. Other reporters said there are indications that authorities may open inquiries into some of the named companies and individuals.

In Niger, the central African landlocked country, newspapers carrying the exclusive investigation by Moussa Askar, director of L’Evenement, sold out completely.

The leaderboard on ICIJ's Continent of Secrets game (supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting) has also filled quickly, as more than 2600 players from about 170 countries have completed the game. The top score so far is 6640, set by a player who calls themselves L'Ouest from the United States. The top 10 players so far are from the U.S., New Zealand, Belgium, Austria, Norway and South Africa.

ICIJ journalist Will Fitzgibbon will speak about the investigation at an event at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting on Thursday, alongside tax policy and transparency experts. The event will be livestreamed online.

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