Starting in April 2016 the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers have and are exposing how hundreds of politicians and other public figures are systematically using offshore companies to avoid paying taxes on their wealth. The same schemes are used by corrupt officials and private persons to channel and launder billions in assets stolen from public bank accounts or obtained through other criminal activities.
It was the impressive work of investigative journalists – coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – that made this happen.
Investigative journalism is also important when we speak about the recovery of stolen assets as well though. Too often public attention is only focussed on the discovery of corrupt wealth overseas and the response to it is not discussed, particularly when cases take years to resolve. This lack of public oversight provides opportunities for money to be stolen again and fails to hold public authorities accountable for how and why they make decisions in the asset recovery process. Investigative journalism is therefore essential to also delve into the questions of what, why and how public money is returned.
What is asset recovery?
Asset recovery is the process of identifying, freezing and returning stolen assets to the country of origin. This should always be carried out with transparency and the involvement of citizens and civil society.