Riad Kobaissi of Lebanon Wins ICFJ Knight International Journalism Award

Published: 06 November 2023

Riad-Kobaissi-4Riad Kobaissi reporting on Al Jadeed News. (Photo: Screenshot from Al Jadeed News YouTube channel)


Lebanon’s pioneering investigative journalist Riad Kobaissi, who collaborated with OCCRP on several recent top-level probes into corruption and miscarriage of justice, has won 2023’s Knight International Journalism Award.

The award is one of several presented annually by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) at a dinner in Washington, D.C. Speaking at ICFJ’s 2023 Tribute to Journalists gala on Nov. 2, Kobaissi promised to continue holding Lebanon’s political elite to account, using solid evidence of wrongdoing.

“We will do so to remind those who think they are unaccountable that there are always consequences,” he said. “This is the role of a journalist: to confront a politician with facts.”

Kobaissi, a father of twin boys, dedicated the ICFJ prize to Lebanon’s Issam Abdullah, a 37-year-old Reuters videographer who was killed on Oct. 13 while filming Israeli missile attacks at the Israel-Lebanon border.

“[At] the time of his death, {Abdullah} was doing nothing more controversial than providing a video for broadcasters. He was shelled despite the fact that his clothing clearly identified him as press and he and his colleagues were filming in an agreed location. Issam paid the price for his pursuit of the truth.”

Kobaissi said he felt unable to celebrate the journalism award he had long coveted because of the “catastrophic death toll” in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 9,700 Palestinians in Gaza and over 1,400  Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed since the militant group Hamas launched its attack inside Israel on Oct. 7.

He called for “balanced and objective media coverage of the war … something which many Western media outlets have always championed, but which unfortunately some failed to achieve.”

For 12 years, Kobaissi led the investigations unit at Lebanon’s independent ALJADEED TV – a period in which the country sank ever more deeply into political chaos, corruption and poverty.

His investigations illuminated the actions of powerful factions that were not afraid to hit back.  Kobaissi endured threats to his life and beatings as he worked to expose Lebanon’s “corrupt politicians and subservient judges.”

In the past three years, Kobaissi worked with OCCRP on several investigations including two that focused on the huge shipment of ammonium nitrate which exploded catastrophically in Beirut’s port in August 2020, causing massive loss of life and damage.

At least 218 people were killed, some 6,000 were injured and vast tracts of the city suffered damage amounting to billions of dollars.

Kobaissi’s efforts helped expose both the owners of the shipment as well as those who had transported it to Beirut and the Lebanese officials who had ignored the risks of storing a potentially volatile substance in manifestly unsafe conditions.

Three years later, Lebanon’s victims from the blast are still waiting for justice.

More recently, Kobaissi worked on revealing extensive financial assets linked to Lebanon’s powerful Central Bank Governor, Riad Salame, whose term in office ended in July.

Together with a team from OCCRP and its local partner Daraj media, he helped reveal holdings worth 120 million euros in Germany, France, and Luxembourg.

The U.S., Canada and the UK imposed sanctions on Salame and four of his associates on Aug. 10, shortly after the 73-year-old stepped down from his 30-year tenure at Banque du Liban, amid a flurry of corruption probes at home and abroad.

“Salame abused his position of power, likely in violation of Lebanese law, to enrich himself and his associates by funneling hundreds of millions of dollars through layered shell companies to invest in European real estate,” the US Treasury said in its announcement. “His corrupt and unlawful actions have contributed to the breakdown of rule of law in Lebanon.”

According to OCCRP, the latest sanctions have likely brought the total value of frozen assets linked to Salame and his associates to at least $200 million.

Germany and France have also issued international warrants for his arrest. 

Kobaissi won the U.S. State Department’s 2021 International Anti-Corruption Champions Award.

Read more and watch his video, narrated by 60 Minutes' Bill Whitaker.