Follow the money
For the first time, the database of companies registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina is available online. It contains information from both entities (the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the Republic of Srpska (RS)) and the nominally independent Brcko District. These are the three major legal areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina that were agreed to under the Dayton Peace Accords.
However, it’s important to note that you can only find recently registered companies here. The court administration is backed up on older records and they have not been digitalized. For the ones registered more than five years ago, you’ll probably still need to file a request.
The satabase is searchable by the name of the company, registration number, or founder’s name. The search results contain information about directors and owners, capital, registered activities, branches and subsidiaries.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is administratively a confusing place. There is a state level government that is somewhat weak. The two entities and the Brcko District are far stronger administratively and many records are required at these levels. The Serb dominated RS and the Croat/Bosniak controlled FBiH operate almost independently. Both are racked by extreme corruption and records are sometimes hard to get especially in the RS where the government is not transparent and regularly refuses to release even the most basic documents.
Complicating matters is the fact that there are 10 Cantons in the FBiH which have another level of bureaucracy and record keeping. The RS does not have Cantons. Many records are also available at the municipal court level.
The main obstacles in the way of journalists following the money across borders in order to investigate corruption and organized crime are the high costs of information and the lack of know-how when it comes to using foreign databases that contain crucial information for the investigation.
A new movement, a new alliance between research librarians and investigative journalists might be the answer to the problem.
About two years ago, in a chat about the Investigative Dashboard in Amman, Jordan Chuck Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity , mentioned he sees potential in the cooperation between research librarians and investigative journalists.
Research librarians affiliated to world Universities have access and know-how that needs to become part of the new journalism. They have access to arrays of databases, some of them very costly and impossible to access to most journalists.
With the global investigative journalism movement, with the new breed of cross border investigative journalists operating in transcontinental networks, it makes natural sense that journalists and research librarians start cooperating and feeding information to each other.
Just imagine a librarian sitting in front of his computer in an office at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and assisting a journalist in Mbuji Mayi, in DR Congo with information on a mining company that just got a license to mine for diamonds in the surroundings of the Congolese town. The Stanford librarians can, in a matter of minutes, identify who are the main shareholders and executives of the company. They may find out it is an honest company with a good track record or they may find out the company is crooked with a history of abusing locals and not paying local taxes. Either way, this information is very valuable to the people of Mbuji Mayi.
Imagine this same scenario replicated all over the Globe, imagine a network where information revealing the truth continuously flows between journalists, librarians and the public. It would make a difference.
The Investigative Dashboard is part of this movement and is featured in this video which is a result of a Journalism that Matters gathering at MIT Boston where journalists met librarian.
The British Virgin Islands are a most attractive destination for those seeking to hide assets, launder money or evade taxes. In addition to total confidentiality and flexible incorporation procedures, BVI makes only minimal demands for the disclosure of corporate information.
The Company Registrar requires only a Memorandum and Articles of Association. From these the public and media can glean the form and type of a company, how much capital it has, and the name and the address of its registered agent. But you likely won’t get a clue about who is really behind the company.
Except, sometimes, rarely, owners do file a Register of Directors, Members (Shareholders) and Mortgages and Charges. And that is what we were counting on when we set out on a mission to get as many BVI records as we could.
We discovered that even the system for requesting company information is rigged in favor of secrecy.
We downloaded an official three-page request form from the BVI Registrar of Corporate Affairs, filled it out and provided credit card information to pay a $25 fee. To our surprise, we only had to wait a weekend to get a response, but it turned out we had gotten only the official info – date of incorporation, authorized capital, first and current registered agent and office.
We did not give up. We wrote the Registrar asking for at least the actual Memorandum and Articles of Association. The official form doesn’t get you that, we were told, you have to ask specifically and pay another $1 a page.
Two of the three pages of the official request form are really only about payment method. Nowhere is there a note or space to list the documents you want. You should look for the area stated “Additional Notes,” they said.
We did find it eventually. It was placed just above the signature line and below the credit card information.
But now we know.
Great story by Barron’s on Russian tax officials and cops involved in a 230 million USD scam. An intricate web of offshore companies is involved and several people died in “Russian” circumstances. The whistle blower who brought light in the case, Sergei Magnitsky, died in jail where he was interrogated by the same people he was accusing. Interestingly enough the same group of offshore company formation agents, GT Group, that the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reported on are involved in the case. Latvian banks have again been used as in many other instances where major fraud and money laundering schemes have been pulled off.
About two weeks ago we went in a fishing expedition in the warm seas of the Caribbean. We looked for company information in a scraped database of Panamanian companies, an offshore haven chosen by many criminals and corrupt politicians to hide their money. We want to take you in another fishing trip but this time in the much colder seas of Great Britain. The following video tutorial indicates how to get, free of charge, information on British based companies and how to creatively use the information from an official database -developed by guys at the Map of Power project- of UK company data. Please let us know if you find this useful and point us out to new resources you come across. The Investigative Dashboard is your playground and a place where tips, tricks and ideas must be shared for the benefit of all of us.
Correction: this post has been corrected as the data on the whorunsit.org was not scraped but bought from the UK registry of companies and then reshaped.
This short video tutorial explains how to find out if citizens of your own country are involved with companies based in the offshore haven of Panama. All it takes is a little creativity and the Daniel O’Huiginn’s scraped database of Panama companies. This is a follow up to a previous video tutorial that indicates how to navigate the more complicated Panama official registry of companies. Happy fishing!
About two weeks ago I posted a blog entry and a video tutorial on how to get corporate records from the official Panama registry of companies. It turns out there is an even better way to look for data on Panama based companies. Dan O’Huiginn created an awesome tool that adds functionality to Panama company searches and allows investigators to also search by names of companies’ directors. The official database only allows searches by companies’ names. O’Huiginn scraped the database, re-indexed it and posted it online here: http://ohuiginn.net/panama The added functionality allows you to search by names of directors, find out the names of companies they own and then go back to the official registry to get the official records.
LinkedIn announced a new feature with their social network: “now you can search for companies not only by attributes such as location, industry, and size but also by how you are connected. You can filter a set of results to include only those companies where you have a direct connection or broaden your search to include companies in your extended network.”
The new search option could prove to be a very useful tool for investigative journalists. Social networks profiles become increasingly important for the investigator’s work as business as well as social connections are shared on social networks such as: Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Social networks mining coupled to companies’ databases mining greatly contribute to profiling individuals and groups.
The ID will soon host video tutorials on social networks mining.
A new report by Reporters without Borders (RSF) says that organized crime poses the biggest threat to media freedom worldwide: a total of 141 journalists and media workers were killed during the decade of the 2000s in attacks and reprisals blamed on criminal groups.
Indeed, organized crime is busy buying media and silencing journalists all over the world. An interesting trend occurred in Eastern Europe where media outlets were bought in bulk by people indicted for organized crime activities. This led to a low quality journalism and to the public turning away from mainstream media.In fact, these media outlets became mere additions to commercial structures owned by controversial businessmen or politicians. They didn’t care about media as a business or as a public service and just used it for their own interests.
Back to the RSF report, Benoit Hervieu, the author, takes us all over the world in a listing of events when organized crime threatened and killed journalists. The RSF report lists one of the Organized Crime and Corruption latest series of reports as a reference.
Disclaimer: The Investigative Dashboard is a project of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (www.reportingproject.net) just published, in Romania, an investigation uncovering the ultimate beneficiaries of a number of offshore based companies. These ultimate owners are controversial politicians and businessmen. Some of them are indicted for organized crime activities or financial fraud. It’s the first time in Eastern Europe that ownership of offshore entities is revealed through documents and a lot of digging. Mihai Munteanu of OCCRP extensively used resources attached to the Investigative Dashboard and combed through thousands of documents in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The investigation was published by www.hotnews.ro and, in the first few hours, attracted more than 10,000 readers. An English version to follow on www.reportingproject.net