Montenegro Paper Wrong about OCCRP

Pobjeda, a government-owned and controlled newspaper in Montenegro, published a series of stories in July 2012 regarding OCCRP and its editor Drew Sullivan.  These stories appeared in the days following publication of OCCRP’s project First Family, First Bank about the bank owned by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. 

The Pobjeda stories are near complete fabrications and highly libelous.  The primary source for the stories was Senad Pecanin, formerly the owner and editor of Dani Magazine, who has a history of privately motivated attacks on Sullivan.  These stem from a time when Sullivan worked as a media development specialist and cut off funding for Pecanin’s publication. One of the stories published by Pobjeda was a reprint of a Dani article.

OCCRP understands that certain media and media owners in the region are prone to unethical behavior and poor professional standards. Publications are frequently subject to misuse by their owners for personal or political attacks.  Both the Pobjeda and Dani stories on OCCRP and its editor are examples of such misuse.

OCCRP is an internationally recognized, award winning organization that must meet the highest standards of quality and transparency demanded by international donors. OCCRP is very familiar with media in the region, its ties to political parties and organized crime, and expects such attacks. We will continue to meet and refute all unfair attacks against our credibility.

OCCRP Shortlisted for European Press Prize

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project was selected as a finalist this month for the European Press Prize, an award created by representatives of seven European media foundations.

OCCRP Editor Publishes CIMA Report on Developing Journalism

 In a report this week for the Center for International Media Assistance, OCCRP Managing Editor Drew Sullivan outlined the challenges facing investigative journalists and media developers in developing democracies, from the highly specialized toolset required to conduct high-level investigative reports to the conflicting reporting cultures that exist pre- versus post-democracy. 

The report, entitled “Investigative Reporting in Emerging Democracies: Models, Challenges, and Lessons Learned,” relies on interviews with investigative journalists, donors, and media developers, as well as research into government and academic reports.

In the report, Sullivan covered the dangers journalists face in areas where legal protections are slim, or non-existent, noting that “each year, between 30 and 70 journalists are killed demonstrating the danger of this work.” He also stressed the importance of long-term grants, citing the disconnect between donors’ focus on rigid deadlines and the messy reality of investigative reporting.

The report offers methods to improve the quality and reliability of investigative journalism in challenging regions, emphasizing the importance of tailoring unique development plans to each region. It also encourages the investigative journalism community to reevaluate its aversion to government funding, since that aversion, while rational, deprives reporters of the biggest source of funding in the realm of media development.

OCCRP board member David Kaplan published an accompanying report, called "Models of Muckraking: Supporting Investigative Journalism Around the World," in which he presented strategies for independent media funders. 


OCCRP names Aliyev "Person of the Year"

Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, has won the first ever Organized Crime and Corruption Person of the Year bestowed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

OCCRP Launches Russian-Language News Site

occrp_ruThe Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project announced Wednesday the launch of a Russian news website covering crime and corruption in the region. The site's content mirrors that of the Project's main site, at, but is written and translated by native Russian speakers.

Published in the world's fourth most popular language, the Russian website will expand OCCRP's audience by close to 300 million new potential readers.

Re:Baltica Investigates Russkiy Mir

The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica, an OCCRP partner, has launched its inaugural cross-national investigative journalism project focused on Russia’s use of soft power in the Baltic countries.

One journalist from each of the three Baltic countries investigated the expenditures and operations of Russkiy Mir (Russian world), a Kremlin-sponsored Foundation intended to promote Russian culture abroad.

Since August, reporters investigated the transparency of the NGOs’ operations and funding. According to the Latvian and Lithuanian laws, information about NGO funding should be open for public. But according to the report, the reality is different.

Read the full investigation on Re:Baltica’s website.

MEPs Send Letter of Support for Khadija Ismayilova

Three members of the European Parliament sent a letter to EU External Action Chief Catherine Ashton urging her to call for an investigation into the harassment of OCCRP Regional coordinator and Radio Free Europe journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

 The letter was sent by German MEPs Elmar Brok and Barbara Lochbihler and Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes on March 8, International Women’s Day.

OCCRP Journalist Khadija Ismayilova Receives Award

OCCRP Journalist Khadija Ismayilova from Azerbaijan was recognized by the German ZEIT Foundation as an activist for independent media and freedom of expression.  Ismayilova is one of five recipients of the Gerd Bucerius Prizes for Free Press in Eastern Europe.

“The journalist Khadija Ismayilova from Baku is one of the most important investigative journalists in Azerbaijan,” the foundation said in a news release. “In various newspapers and in their own radio show she talks about corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations in the country.”

Ismayilova serves as OCCRP’s regional coordinator and editor for the Caucasus. She  recently collaborated with two other OCCRP reporters on an investigation into how companies owned by relatives and friends of Egypt’s former leader Hosni Mubarak came to be owned by seemingly unconnected individuals from Azerbaijan.

This year’s winners also include two magazines and three journalists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.  The awards ceremony takes place on 24 May 2012 in Hamburg.

Japan Tobacco Distributors Tied to Rampant Cigarette Smuggling

Investigative Unit Fired after Warning of Criminal Activity


Executives of Japan Tobacco International (JTI) stood by as its distributors engaged in widespread cigarette smuggling in a dozen countries, according to company records, e-mails, secretly recorded conversations by investigators, and interviews with a half-dozen past employees.

When the company’s anti-smuggling unit cracked down on smuggling routes and raised questions about suspect distributors, JTI retaliated last year by hacking into the team’s computers, firing its leaders, and phasing out nearly a dozen contractors who knew about the smuggling, according to former employees.

This year, as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad killed his own people and faced worldwide sanctions, JTI's Middle East business partner poured cigarettes into duty free shops that the European Union says helped prop  up the regime, the records show.

JTI is the international arm of Japan Tobacco, the world’s third largest tobacco company and maker of such brands as Winston, Camel and Benson & Hedges.

The widespread smuggling occurred despite a 2007 JTI agreement with the European Union to crack down on illicit shipments.

The story is being released today by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a joint program of 11 investigative journalism centers in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The internal JTI records were provided to OCCRP by sources close to the company. Six former employees confirmed the authenticity of the documents, which are available on the OCCRP website. Among the revelations:

  • Smuggling incidents were reported almost monthly during 2009-10, but former employees said no action was taken in the company’s most profitable areas. Investigators suspected tens of millions of JTI cigarettes were being diverted to smuggling operations in the Philippines, Afghanistan, Jordan, Iraq and elsewhere, often with the help of JTI’s own distributors.
  • When investigators received information that 13 JTI employees or distributors may have been working directly with smugglers, a senior JTI vice president blocked an investigation, according to company e-mails and internal memos.
  • JTI contractors paid officials in Iraq, Kurdistan and Iran to get information on smuggling routes, according to company internal reports and interviews with contractors.


Executives at JTI headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, declined to answer specific questions, but did issue a written statement blaming a “former employee’’ for spreading false information. “Our company does not wish to comment on the unfounded allegations raised in the various e-mails you sent us,’’ media relations vice president Guy Cote wrote in an e-mail.  

“If JTI has carried on aiding and abetting smuggling, then it’s clear that a regional agreement like that negotiated by the EU is insufficient,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in London. “When you have smuggling, you undermine public health, you invite crime and you rob tax payers of millions of pounds of revenue every year.’’

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) is a joint program of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo, the Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism, the Bulgarian Investigative Journalism Center, the Center for Investigative Reporting in Serbia, Novaya Gazeta, the Kyiv Post, HETQ in Armenia, re:baltica,, SCOOP-Macedonia, MANS in Montenegro and a network of investigative journalists and media from Eastern Europe to Central Asia

OCCRP’s goal is to help the people of the region better understand how organized crime and corruption affect their lives. OCCRP seeks to provide in-depth investigative stories as well as the latest news pertaining to organized crime and corruption activities in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.