OCCRP 2013 End of Year Letter

Dear friend of OCCRP,

The year 2013 is drawing to a close and if we had known last January what we know today, we would have been both delighted and deeply afraid. It's been an amazing year of successes, tribulations, lawsuits, awards, threats and constant great reporting. But thank God it's over, making this is a good time to recap.

At OCCRP, our mission is─as always─to help our readers understand what is happening in their world and how organized crime and the corruption that it engenders influences their lives. We do this through our cross-border investigative reporting.

This year it is more evident than ever that organized crime is growing in power, wealth and influence. There have been few substantative arrests or prosecutions of the major players in the countries where we work. Instead, more persons in power in government and political parties are being identified as working with organized crime and drug traffickers. Eastern Europe and Eurasia has become the new Mexico, although so far it has avoided the extreme violence. Billions of illegal dollars are coursing through the financial veins of the region and into the financial hearts of Europe and the Middle East. Crime figures have grown in astounding sophistication, taking advantage of corruption and weaknesses in the financial, pharmaceuticals, and energy markets. In many parts of the world, they have drilled into the social and political infrastructures making themselves all the harder to displace. We have lost ground this year, and nothing on the horizon portends a break in that trend.

The outlook is not completely bleak. Those engaged in fighting these groups also grew, including OCCRP. OCCRP is larger than ever with more than 110 reporters active this year in publishing hundreds of stories. We have ten local and international editors and coordinators leading reporters on more than 90 active stories. We are, we believe, the largest cross border reporting organization and maybe the largest investigative reporting organization anywhere in terms of active reporters and investigative stories published.

This year our peers have recognized our work. We were double finalists in the Global Shining Light award and we won one of them, finalists in the Daniel Pearl Award (A story we contributed to won.), a finalist in the Online Journalism Awards and the winner of the SEEMO award. OCCRP journalist Roman Anin won the Knight International Journalism Award and Khadija Ismayilova won the Women's Courage in Journalism award. We won many more local and regional awards. While most organizations have one project or story win big awards, we had five.

OCCRP reporters and member organizations gave us a great crop of stories this year. We were the first news organization to trace the infamous Magnitsky money stolen from the Russian treasury, despite the Russian government saying it could not be done. We showed how a portion ended up in high-end Wall Street apartments. The US government is now seizing those apartments. We demonstrated how the Serbian Prime Minister's National Security Advisor was a long-time business partner of major mafia figures as was his political party. We outed a ring of assassins in Moldova paid to murder people around Europe. There were investigations by authorities in a half dozen countries due to OCCRP. People were fired. The impact of our stories continues to be felt around the world, and we regularly received feedback from law enforcement professionals, activists, and others that our journalism has enabled them to pursue justice more effectively.

Our capacity to produce groundbreaking journalism has grown alongside our technological innovations and advancements. With support from Google Ideas, our Investigative Dashboard has been redesigned, making it easier for journalists, researchers, activists, and others to connect the dots of organized crime and corruption across borders. A new team of volunteer researchers has enhanced our capacity and a growing database of results is providing greater value than ever. Meanwhile, our Visual Investigative Scenarios (VIS) platform has been debuted and adopted by dozens of reporters and news media around the world. VIS makes it easier to understand and explain corruption, organized crime, and other wrongdoings and to translate and map complex business or crime networks using a simple visual language. Already we are being barraged with requests to add additional capacity.

At the same time, our journalists are building ties with other organizations to extend reach and effect. This year we expanded relationships with Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), Connectas and Insight Crime in Colombia, and ANCIR in South Africa. We have worked with reporters in more than 60 countries this year. Our Investigative Dashboard program has partnered with these same organizations to expand ID's on-the- ground research capacity over a majority of the globe. Our impact is wider than ever, and a new generation of cross-border investigative journalists with cutting-edge skills is being formed. Our centers are swamped with young reporters who want to be involved.

While we may be among the largest and most effective investigative reporting programs, we are not the largest by financial resources. We will again top $1.2 million this year in expenses – a respectable amount but nothing compared to the tens of millions collected in fines and seizures from our stories -- and pocket change for even a small organized crime group. Still, we have done more with less by keeping our administration in the field, not paying rock star salaries despite being blessed with many rock stars and contracting infrastructure rather than hiring it. This year our real overhead will again be around 7 percent, which may be the lowest in our industry. OCCRP makes a compelling case study for donors on how to maximize funds for maximum effect in the field. We are better, cheaper and faster.

While we are excited about our accomplishments and progress, we recognize that this is no time for complacency. Organized crime and corruption takes no holiday, and the media world is rapidly evolving. We are prepared to stay ahead of the game, and are already planning a number of new initiatives for 2014, including a stronger focus on video journalism, new techological innovations, a website redesign, new programs linking Europe to Latin America, and new investigative projects. We also hope to take advantage of our new strategic relationships.

We are grateful to our supporters and our readers. Considering the challenges of the future, we hope you will continue to stay with us and support us in fulfilling our New Year's goals. We couldn't do it without you.

On behalf of everyone at OCCRP, we wish you happy holidays. And it's a good thing we don't know what is in store for 2014. We'll just ride the roller coaster again and see what happens.

Best regards,

Drew Sullivan, Editor 

Paul Radu, Executive Director