The leak of 131 gigabytes of internal data from the London firm Formations House was both an opportunity and a challenge for journalists.
Obtained by the information activist group Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets) and shared with numerous media outlets, the files included the company’s email archives, and parts of a database used to manage customer relations.
OCCRP considers such leaks and databases carefully before accessing them. Like Mossack Fonseca in the Panama Papers, company registration firms knowingly or unwittingly obscure the actions of persons committing crimes. Companies registered by Formations House have reportedly been used in such cases, which made us interested in the data. In order to help reporters effectively trawl through the sea of data for stories that would serve the public interest, OCCRP created a search engine for 880,000 email messages, about 15,000 documents, and thousands of other files.
We also analyzed the customer database system. Sifting through 215 tables in this database helped reporters connect individuals to the companies they had set up. The database also contained fragments of data belonging to online games and dating platforms, a testament to the vast variety of business schemes explored by Formations House. OCCRP and about a dozen media partners shared information and reporting. However, the resulting stories reflect the independent work and editorial judgments of each organization.
DDoSecrets has announced its intention to publish the data in full. But the group agreed to first allow investigative reporters exclusive access for in-depth reporting for a limited amount of time.
In an emailed statement to journalists, the firm’s current owner, Charlotte Pawar, said the leaked data has been reported as stolen, and that the company has faced extortion attempts. OCCRP is not aware of such actions and Pawar did not provide evidence to support these claims despite several inquiries from reporters.
OCCRP is an investigative journalism organization working in the public interest, and as such has not requested or accepted payments for the data.
OCCRP will continue to make a search interface for the leaked material available to journalists from legitimate and responsible media organizations, but not the general public.
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