'Follow the Money' with Matthew Caruana Galizia and Oya Özarslan

7 September 2018
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Investigative journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia and Transparency International (TI) Board Chair Oya Özarslan came together at the Follow the Money seminar organised by Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA). Galizia and Özarslan provided a training for journalists on how to keep track of money both within national borders and overseas.

MLSA Director Barış Altıntaş made the opening speech of the seminar and then handed over the microphone to Matthew Caruana Galizia. Galizia shared his personal experience at the International Investigative Journalists Concortium (ICIJ), where over 600 journalists worked on the Panama Papers. He added: "It took almost a whole year for everyone to get their pieces ready for publishing." Galizia mentioned that his mother, investigative finance journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was assassinated in October 2017, had started working on leads from the Panama Papers and her life got much harder afterwards. He stated: "I then started travelling to Malta more frequently, in order to work more closely with her."

Galizia set out a couple of methods to identify 'suspicious' financial movements such as looking for companies that use 'bearer shares' and/or layering techniques to cover up the real identities of their owners. He remarked that journalists should also look out for 'nominee directorship' and 'nominee shareholding' in the structuring of a company, which might also indicate suspicious financial affairs. Galizia said that these techniques and methods are allowed in only a few countries around the world: "People who live in the British Virgin Islands or Panama are paid a couple of hundred dollars per year, in exchange of their signatures. These are generally people with very low income such as waiters, bus drivers etc. and they are unaware of what they are doing."

In the second part of his speech, Galizia showed how he makes use of public sources if he has a few names in hand. He said first thing he does is to search those names in trade registries. Galizia introduced a database called Open Corporates where there are the registrations of over 164 million companies from all around the world. He added: "Now that we see the Turkish trade registry is not involved in this database, we can move on to our second public source, which is the government gazettes. There is this database where many government gazettes are collected, it is called 'Open Gazettes'. For example if I know for a fact that this person I am investigating has set up a company in France, I can search his name in the French government gazette." Galizia also mentioned Malta and some other countries have online platforms were where government contracts are published periodically, where journalists can see which companies were awarded how many government bids/tenders.

'All this data was gathered from public sources, there is no leak'

Galizia then introduced ICIJ's Offshore Leaks Database, advised journalists to search the names there, and in case they reach no results, contact ICIJ for help. Galizia also clearly stated that there was no actual leak: "In public sources, you have to search the company name which is usually a very random name, and really hard to access. All we did was to gather and collect information from various public sources in one place. So now when you type in someone's name, you can actually obtain information on which companies they own etc."

Lastly, Galizia mentioned Egmont Group, an international organisation that operates against financial crimes. He gave the example of The Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) in Turkey and remarked that the employees of these organisations have access to so much information however they are very hard to reach.

'Corruption is not only an economic issue, it is also an issue of human rights'

Transparency International Board Chair Oya Özarslan took the floor and started speaking about the perspective and founding principles of TI and said: "Matthew has evaluated the issue of corruption from a journalist's perspective. I would like to show you how we see it as non-governmental organisations. TI is the first global organisation founded against corruption. We see it as an issue of human rights, not just an economic one. "

Özarslan introduced some anti-corruption organisations and foundations and provided some information that TI gathered between the years 2014-15 based on a research they conducted in Turkey. She stated: "We asked people whether they had trust in these 15 institutions (Court of Accounts, judiciary, media etc.) based on criterion such as transparency, honesty, accountability and measured the strength of these institutions. The data we gathered showed that citizens saw all of them 'weak', except for the Court of Accounts which scored a 'medium'. We had then stated that a large dark shadow of the executive power wanders over these institutions. This survey was conducted before the presidential system was established, now we can say, that shadow is black as a skillet."

Özarslan pointed out to the significant role of independent judiciary and free press in the fight against corrpution. She remarked that the most vital problem in Turkey is the situation of the media and added: "It is very hard for citizens to be informed now. Reporters are facing judicial processes, we had conducted a research among media workers in 2014 and found out that journalists are inclined to censor themselves especially when it comes to news stories covering corruption."

Oya Özarslan introduced some local public sources that investigative journalists can benefit from: "The government gazette, Trade Registry Gazette, official reports of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM), reports of the Court of Accounts, finance-budget-exchequer data, annual reports etc. I am aware that these sources are insufficient and they get attenuated everyday. However they still include valuable information. I can say that the only journalist in Turkey to deal with these issues is Çiğdem Toker. I wish more people worked on them."

'Can the exception of something cover 28 per cent?'

Lastly, Özarslan took some time to speak about the public procurement law and said that it was changed 205 times in the past 16 years. She added: "This law has a scope and exception. The second article is related to its scope and if we look closely to it we can see it is being used to exclude so many projects, such as social housing (TOKİ) and mega projects. Article 3 of the public procurement law states its exceptions and we can see that covers around 28% of public spenditure. Do you think this rate points out to an exception? Let's see the exceptions stated here; for example all goods and services regarding the G20 summit, all spendings of the Supreme Committee of Elections (YSK), all purchases of Turkish Airlines and BOTAŞ (Petroleum Pipeline Corporation), all repairment spenditure regarding cultural and natural properties etc. Most of all, after the elections of 24 June, another provision was added to this article. That is, all purchases of the Presidential Palace.

Özarslan remarked that 42% of public services are excluded from the public procurement law. She added: "Journalists all around the world reported the Paradise Papers. Even in Russia, of course measures were taken to block these stories however none of the journalists faced criminal investigations except for the ones based in Turkey. Pelin Ünker and Çiğdem Toker were sued for their journalistic work. I am aware that it is not easy to report these issues, however people who do are working in favor of the public."