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Susan Coughtrie

Project Director

Susan Coughtrie joined the FPC as a member of staff in July 2020 as Project Director for a new project called “Unsafe for scrutiny: How journalists around the world investigating financial crimes in UK jurisdictions face risks to their freedom and security from vexatious lawsuits (SLAPP) to violence”. Previously a Research Fellow at the FPC, she undertakes a variety of consultancy work and is an advisor to the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF). Until December 2018, Susan spent seven years at ARTICLE 19 where she developed projects across the Eurasia region on topics including safety of journalists, access to information, restrictions to freedom of expression online and countering hate speech. She also serves on the committee for the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS).

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5489 [post_author] => 65 [post_date] => 2021-02-10 00:00:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-02-09 23:00:08 [post_content] => As part of our Unsafe for Scrutiny project, the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) is starting a new series of fortnightly articles focused on topics at the intersection of anti-corruption and safety of journalists. Featuring journalists as well as media freedom and anti-corruption experts, the series will provide insider perspectives on emerging issues or developing events. To launch the series, Susan Coughtrie, Unsafe for Scrutiny’s Project Director, rounds up what has already been an eventful couple of months since the release of FPC’s Unsafe for Scrutiny report in December 2020. Unsafe for Scrutiny: Russian anti-corruption protests, ‘historic’ US anti-money laundering legislation, ‘Chumocracy’ and threats to freedom of information in the UK  It has been a mere two months since the release of FPC’s December report, which highlights how the misuse of the UK’s financial and legal systems to facilitate corruption undermines the freedom and safety of investigative journalists around the world. Yet in that relatively short space of time there have been several developments on both sides of the Atlantic pertinent to the FPC’s focus on issues at the nexus of safety of journalists and anti-corruption. These have served to place a renewed spotlight on the actions, or inaction, of the UK Government that has an impact both domestically and abroad. Below is round up of key stories and why they matter: 
  • Russia: Navalny’s revelations, anti-corruption protests and attacks on journalists
  • UK: Exposure of London firms supporting corrupt figures and a planned ‘crackdown’ on formation agents
  • UK: The ‘rise of Chumocracy’ in the time of COVID and the need to protect freedom of information
  • US: ‘Historic’ anti-money laundering legislation, overturned sanctions and Trump’s Scottish UWO challenge
  • End Notes: Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPPS) and the impact on journalists
 Russia: Navalny’s revelations, anti-corruption protests and attacks on journalistsThe decision by Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, to return to his homeland in January 2021, five months after an almost successful assassination attempt, was always going to be provocative. Few would have been surprised at his swift arrest upon arrival, particularly after Navalny, together with investigative news outlets Bellingcat and The Insider, published reports implicating Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) agents in his poisoning.[1] What was not as predictable was the scale of the mass protests in response not only to his arrest but also the release of an almost two hour YouTube video entitled ‘Putin's palace. History of world's largest bribe.’[2] Posted on 19 January 2021, with its host already detained, Navalny’s video alleges that Putin, through personal and business connections, laundered money to build an extravagant palace on the Black Sea estimated to be worth over a billion USD. To date, the video has over 110 million views, with independent pollsters at the Levada Centre estimating that at least 1 in 4 Russians have watched it.[3] Those who have taken to the streets across the country since 23 January have been met with violence and mass arrests, including independent media. The Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ), which kindly supports FPC’s Unsafe for Scrutiny project, have documented what they describe as “unprecedented repressions” against media during the protests. JFJ recorded 195 incidents of detentions and arrests of professional and citizen journalists between 16 January and 3 February 2021.[4] Their report notes: “the clearly marked PRESS vests, editorial tasks and press cards served as a reason for the journalists’ detention, rather than their protection from the police and the riot units (OMON).” The already dire situation for media freedom and safety of journalists in the country was powerfully outlined by Dmitry Velikovsky, Russian investigative journalist working for iStories, in his contribution to FPC’s December report - Investigative journalism in today’s Russia, and why the UK’s stance could actually make a difference.[5] Several UK MPs have responded to the recent events in Russia by calling on the UK Government to “rapidly impose sanctions on individuals responsible for ordering, conducting and aiding human rights abuses against peaceful protestors, journalists, citizens and opposition politicians in Russia.”[6] While the UK introduced ‘Magnitsky’ style sanctions last July, and utilised them in October against those alleged to be involved in Navalny’s poisoning, they have yet to be extended to cover corruption.[7] However, the UK can make a significant difference by actively shutting down avenues within its jurisdiction for money laundering by corrupt political elites. On 25 January 2021, the Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre, Graeme Biggar, described the ‘disturbing’ prevalence of Russian money being laundered in London.[8] This is a fact that has already been well documented by successive journalistic investigations. Moreover given this was a key finding of the 'Russia Report’ published by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) in July 2020, the UK’s Government’s action to delay the release of the report, and its subsequent inaction to follow up, could perhaps be described as equally ‘disturbing’.[9] UK: Exposure of London firms supporting corrupt figures and a planned ‘crackdown’ on formation agentsThe role that UK firms have played in enabling corrupt figures has again hit the news recently. Highlighted in ISC’s Russia Report as “a growth industry of ‘enablers’ including lawyers, accountants, and estate agents,” these services are utilised beyond those tied to Russia. On 1 February 2021, OCCRP together with The Sarawak Report published a joint investigation revealing the role that London firm Henley & Partners played in obtaining a Cypriot passport for disgraced financier Jho Low, who stands accused of stealing billions from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.[10] Their investigation reveals that, despite identifying Low as a high-risk client with political exposure, Henley & Partners continued to assist him utilising a Cypriot company as an intermediary. Less than a week later, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) served an arrest warrant to London law firm Clyde & Co to recoup what are believed to be the proceeds of the 1MBD scandal, held in their accounts on behalf a client.[11] The ease with which those accused of corruption are able to access a wide number of services is strongly contrasted by the challenges faced by journalists trying to expose their wrongdoing. Clare Rewcastle Brown, founder of The Sarawak Report, described in her article for FPC - A scandal of corruption and censorship: Uncovering the 1MDB case in Malaysia - the incredible amount of harassment she has faced including surveillance, smear campaigns and digital hacking on top of significant legal challenges. Ultimately, Rewcastle Brown’s reporting led to the downfall of the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who is now in prison and Low is currently on the run from justice in Malaysia, Singapore and the US. The importance of her work clearly speaks for itself, and underscores the need to ensure the protection of journalists from all forms of threat and harassment. In positive news, however, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has announced this month its intention to ‘crackdown’ on trust and company service providers, otherwise referred to as formation agents of which there are more than 20,000 in the UK.[12] The NCA stated its concern that “in some cases, formation providers may be complicit in illegality, or at least may be operating in breach of anti-money- laundering laws”. The use of anonymous shell companies in UK jurisdictions for illegal activities was touched on in two essays for FPC by journalists who face significant challenges when attempting to ‘follow the money’: in Chișinău to London: A story about big money and small information by Alina Radu, Editor in Chief of Moldovan investigative news outlet Ziarul de Garda; and Tracking corruption from the heart of Europe to UK Overseas Territories: murder, death threats and a wall of silence, by Slovak investigative journalist Peter Sabo from news outlet Aktuality.sk and Pavla Holcová, founder of the Czech independent outlet Investigace.cz. While the NCA’s announcement is a step in the right direction there has to date been a persistent ‘enforcement gap’ in the UK in terms of tackling financial crime and corruption. As Ben Cowdock and Rachel Davis Teka from Transparency International UK pointed out in their article for FPC - How UK anti-corruption groups work with journalists to push for change - this has been in part due to limited resources invested in the relevant authorities. It is not yet clear what the NCA’s plans will look like and with parallel reforms to Companies House slow to be implemented there is still a way to go before any impact is felt. As Cowdock and Davis Teka have argued this makes the role of journalists, who have both specialist expertise both in how the UK’s financial systems facilitate this corruption as well as the contextual situations in countries around the world, so vital. UK: The ‘rise of Chumocracy’ in the time of COVID and the need to protect freedom of informationDuring the COVID pandemic, the UK Government’s response has been beset by allegations of cronyism frequently described as ‘chumocracy’. A joint investigation published last week by The Byline Times and The Citizens revealed: “Government contracts worth £881 million have been awarded to individuals who have donated a total of £8.2 million to the Conservative Party in recent years.”[13] Greater transparency around decision-making and the handling of the COVID response is crucial not least to improve public confidence, both in the health measures put in place as well as how taxpayers’ money has been spent, particularly at a time of economic hardship for many. Yet the pandemic has also raised concerns regarding the UK Government’s own attitude to journalists, which were encapsulated by Index on Censorship’s Jessica Ní Mhainín in her piece for the FPC - The UK and media freedom: An urgent need to lead by example. In 2020, journalists from at least four media outlets were denied access to a government briefing in February, a journalist was banned from asking questions at a government press briefing in May, and in September the media outlet Declassified was blacklisted by the Ministry of Defence, for which it later received an apology.[14] Media outlet openDemocracy has since launched a petition with a view to taking legal action against the UK Government for what they describe as “a secretive unit inside Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office that’s been accused of ‘blacklisting’ journalists and blocking the release of ‘sensitive’ information.”[15] This week their initiative received the backing of editors across Fleet Street, who in a rare show of unity signed openDemocracy’s public letter calling for MPs to urgently investigate the British government's handling of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.[16] Amongst the signatories is The Times Editor John Witherow, who commented: "Transparency is not a privilege or a gift bequeathed to a grateful citizenry by a benign government. It is a fundamental right of a free people to be able to see and scrutinise the decisions made on their behalf.” However, another potential threat to the application of was seen off last week as a tribunal ruled against limiting access to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000 to UK citizens living in the UK.[17] The ruling came after several appeals from journalists based outside the UK, including one British citizen based in Hong Kong, had been refused access to information. A barrister representing one of the journalists stated after the ruling that “Journalists, individuals and organisations outside the UK play a crucial role in ensuring transparency and fighting misinformation, both in the UK and more widely. The FOIA, for all its challenges, is key to that.” US: ‘Historic’ anti-money laundering legislation, overturned sanctions and Trump’s Scottish UWO challengeThe US has experienced a rollercoaster couple of months as outgoing President Donald Trump refused to accept that he was on the way out. Perhaps slightly overlooked in an already crowded news agenda was the approval of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, which has been described as “the most comprehensive set of reforms to the anti-money laundering (‘AML’) laws in the United States since the USA PATRIOT Act was passed in 2001.”[18] The move has been hailed as a ‘historic’ development by anti-corruption campaigners like Transparency International.[19] Amongst other measures, it introduces requirements to provide information about beneficial ownership putting an end to the practice of anonymous shell companies operating inside the country. Depending on how quickly this is implemented, it could see the US overtake efforts made by the UK to introduce similar limits on anonymous beneficial ownership. However, in one of his last acts as President, Trump, who has himself long been dogged by corruption allegations, lifted the sanctions against Israeli businessman Dan Gertler that had been in place since 2017.[20] An investigation published in the summer of 2020 by Global Witness and the Platform for the Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) into a suspected international money laundering network that seemingly allowed Gertler continue his dealings in Africa despite the previous sanctions, resulted in both organisations being subject to various forms of intimidation including online harassment and legal challenges.[21] There have already been appeals to President Biden to reinstate the sanctions against Gertler. Biden’s administration indicated even before entering office that cracking down on illicit finance at home and abroad would be a top priority.[22] Meanwhile Trump has faced down perhaps one of his more surprising challenges this month as MSPs debated whether Trump's local business interests in Scotland should be investigated through an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), but ultimately voted to reject the motion.[23] End Notes: Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPPS)Last but not least, the FPC’s Unsafe for Scrutiny project has been increasing its focus on vexatious legal threats often referred to as strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs). Legal threats came out as the main concern in FPC’s global survey of 63 investigative journalists in 41 countries last year. The survey findings, published in November 2020, also pointed to the UK as the leading source of international legal threats. Following on from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom’s (ECPMF) essay on The increasing rise, and impact, of SLAPPs: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, a short explainer on SLAPPs and the impact on journalists is now accessible on FPC’s website here. For those who enjoy podcasts, I spoke with Lana Estemirova host of the ‘Trouble with the Truth’ podcast about ‘SLAPPs, corruption and dirty money: how UK firms help silence investigative journalism’ released on 25 January 2021, which is available to listen to here[1] Bellingcat Investigative Team, FSV Team of Chemical Weapon Experts Implicated in Alexey Navalny Novichok Poisoning, Bellingcat, December 2020, https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2020/12/14/fsb-team-of-chemical-weapon-experts-implicated-in-alexey-navalny-novichok-poisoning/; Laboratory. How FSB NII-2 employees tried to poison Alexei Navalny, The insider, December 2020, https://theins.ru/politika/237705[2] Alexey Navalny, Putin’s palace. History of world’s largest bribe, YouTube, January 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipAnwilMncI[3] Film “Palace for Putin”, Levada Centre, February 2021, https://www.levada.ru/2021/02/08/film-dvorets-dlya-putina/[4] Unprecedented repressions against Russian professional and citizen journalists, Justice for Journalists, February 2021, https://jfj.fund/unprecedented-repressions-against-russian-professional-and-citizen-journalists/[5] I-Stories, https://istories.media/en/[6] Democracy, human rights and the detention of Alexei Navalny, EDM 1390: tabled on 25 January 2021, UK Parliament, https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/58006/democracy-human-rights-and-the-detention-of-alexei-navalny-in-russia[7] Catherine Philp, Alexei Navalny: Putin’s inner circle sanctioned over novichok attack, The Times, October 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/alexei-navalny-putins-inner-circle-sanctioned-over-novichok-attack-zsmhx66ff[8] Stefan Boscia, Top official warns of ‘disturbing’ amount of Russian money laundering in UK, City a.m., January 2021, https://www.cityam.com/top-official-warns-of-disturbing-amount-of-russian-money-laundering-in-uk/[9] Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Russia, Independent.gov.uk, 2020, https://docs.google.com/a/independent.gov.uk/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=aW5kZXBlbmRlbnQuZ292LnVrfGlzY3xneDo1Y2RhMGEyN2Y3NjM0OWFl[10] OCCRP and Sarawak Report, A Key Plater in Malaysia’s Biggest-Ever Corruption Scandal Found Sanctuary in Cyprus With Help From a Major London Firm, OCCRP, February 2021, https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/a-key-player-in-malaysias-biggest-ever-corruption-scandal-found-sanctuary-in-cyprus-with-help-from-a-major-london-firm[11] Harry Davies, Warrant served on UK law firm over alleged 1MBD assets, The Guardian, February 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/07/arrest-warrant-served-on-uk-law-firm-over-alleged-1mdb-assets?[12] James Hurley, Formation agents facing crackdown over organised crime links, The Times, February 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/formation-agents-facing-crackdown-over-organised-crime-links-0vfdhn3k6[13] Byline Times and The Citizens, The Crony Ration: £800 million in COVID contracts to donors who have given £8 million to Conservatives, Byline Times, February 2021, https://bylinetimes.com/2021/02/05/crony-ratio-conservative-donations-government-coronavirus-contracts/[14] Charlotte Tobitt, MoD apologises after press office refused to engage with Declassified journalists, PressGazette, September 2020, https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/mod-apologises-after-press-office-refused-to-engage-with-declassified-journalists/[15] Stop the secrecy: save our Freedom of Information, openDemocacy, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/save-our-foi/[16] Mary Fitzgerald and Peter Geoghegan, Fleet Street editors unite to demand ‘urgent’ action on Freedom of Information, openDemocacy, February 2021, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/fleet-street-editors-demand-urgent-action-to-protect-freedom-of-information/[17] Bill Goodwin, ‘Victory for free speech and openness’ after tribunal confirms no territorial restrictions to FOIA, ComputerWeekly.com, February 2021, https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252495653/Victory-for-free-speech-and-openness-after-tribunal-confirms-no-territorial-restrictions-to-FOIA[18] The Top 10 Takeaways for Financial Institutions from the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, Gibson Dunn, January 2021, https://www.gibsondunn.com/the-top-10-takeaways-for-financial-institutions-from-the-anti-money-laundering-act-of-2020/[19] Richard Hall, US passes ‘historic’ anti-corruption law that effectively bans anonymous shell companies, Independent, January 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-passes-historic-anti-corruption-legislation-that-effectively-bans-anonymous-shell-companies-b1781380.html[20] Peter Fabricius, Magnitsky Act: Departing Trump lifted US sanctions against controversial Israeli businessman Dan Gertler, Daily Maverick, January 2021, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-01-24-departing-trump-lifted-us-sanctions-against-controversial-israeli-businessman-dan-gertler/[21] Intimidation and scare tactics won’t work on us – we will continue to demand real action to bring greater transparency to DRC’s mining sector, Global Witness, July 2020, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/intimidation-and-scare-tactics-wont-work-on-us-we-will-continue-to-demand-real-action-to-bring-greater-transparency-to-drcs-mining-sector/[22] Amy Mackinnon, Biden Expected to Put the World’s Kleptocrats on Notice, Foreign Policy, December 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/12/03/biden-kleptocrats-dirty-money-illicit-finance-crackdown/[23] MSPs reject calls for probe into Donald Trump golf courses, BBC News, February 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-55912670 This article was produced as part of the Unsafe for Scrutiny project, which is kindly funded by the Justice for Journalists Foundation. [post_title] => Unsafe for Scrutiny: Russian anti-corruption protests, ‘historic’ US anti-money laundering legislation, ‘Chumocracy’ and threats to freedom of information in the UK [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => unsafe-for-scrutiny-russian-anti-corruption-protests-historic-us-anti-money-laundering-legislation-chumocracy-and-threats-to-freedom-of-information-in-the-uk [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-02-26 15:58:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-02-26 14:58:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=5489 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5317 [post_author] => 65 [post_date] => 2020-12-09 00:09:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-12-08 23:09:41 [post_content] => Executive SummaryThis publication explores the role that the United Kingdom (UK) plays as a hub for the facilitation of global financial crime and corruption, as well as for services that can be utilised against journalists reporting on this topic. It argues that while the UK and its offshore jurisdictions are not the only locations used for the facilitation of financial crime and corruption, the extent to which the UK acts as a facilitator, both as a destination for illicit money and as the source of a wide range of enablers to support corrupt individuals and suppress public interest reporting is alarming. Moreover, this situation is damaging for the UK’s international standing at a critical time, post-Brexit, in which it is trying to establish future financial and trade relationships. The UK’s poor reputation as a centre for financial crime and corruption has been repeatedly evidenced by significant transnational journalistic investigations and research by anti-corruption groups over the past decade. Yet rather than expediting measures to remedy this situation the UK Government appears to have been dragging its heels recently. Despite some positive steps made in the wake of the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit in London seemingly straightforward solutions to create greater transparency and accountability, such as the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill first proposed in 2018, are still to be realised. The existence of a ‘London Laundromat’ and a growth industry of connected enablers garnered fresh attention and some official recognition in July 2020, with the release of ‘The Russia Report’ by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). However, the UK Government’s response has been lacklustre and without follow up to date. Meanwhile, journalists who have worked to shine a spotlight on corruption continue to face significant threats to their safety and security. Some of these threats have been instigated with the help of UK based law firms and reputation management companies. The personal testimonies of the five investigative journalists together with the contributions from anti-corruption and media freedom experts forming this publication serve to highlight two interlinked concerns: - Firstly, the impact the UK’s facilitation of international financial crime and corruption has on media freedom, particularly when connected to political elites in countries with poor democratic records.- Secondly, the enduring role London continues to hold as an international libel capital, despite reforms to English and Welsh law in 2013 intended to crack down on libel tourism, and the impact such legal action, or even the threat of it, in the UK can have on journalists here and abroad. These point to weaknesses in the UK’s claim to be a global leader in the fight against illicit finance as well as a promoter of media freedom and safety of journalists around the world, despite having spearheaded, together with Canada, a Global Pledge on Media Freedom in 2019. As highlighted by the findings from a recent FPC global survey of journalists working to uncover financial crime and corruption, the UK not only features highly in journalists’ investigations (61% of respondents reported finding a link with UK jurisdictions), but is also a significant source of legal challenges against them. Of the 63 survey respondents in 41 countries, 73% reported receiving communication(s) threatening legal action (often referred to as SLAPPS – strategic litigation against public participation) as a result of information they had published. The respondents pointed to the UK as the highest international source of these legal challenges - almost as high as EU countries and the US combined. While calls are growing louder for anti- SLAPP regulation in the European Union, there remains an urgent need for policy and legislative intervention in the UK. This publication sets forth recommendations for the UK Government, and other key stakeholders, to take steps to address these issues and support public interest journalism. RecommendationsBased on the research and contributions in this publication there are a number of suggestions for possible action. For the UK Government:- Recognise the vital role that journalists play in creating transparency and accountability and connect this to Government strategies to counter financial crime and corruption[1] facilitated within its borders. In particular, by reviewing and updating the UK’s 2019-2022 Economic Crime Plan and the 2017-22 Anti-Corruption Strategy.- Instigate an independent investigation or public inquiry into the ‘London Laundromat’ and connected growth industry of ‘enablers’, including the full extent of their impact, following the findings published in the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia Report in July 2020. This should take into account the environment for media freedom in countries where the political elites are using UK jurisdictions to launder money, as a destination for their illicit funds, or to buy legal, reputational, surveillance or other services aimed at suppressing reporting on crime and corruption.- Expedite and effectively resource the introduction and implementation of the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill, requiring all overseas companies that own UK property to reveal the ultimate beneficial owner.- Provide free and open access for journalists to all registries related to companies, land and property in the UK, as well as to databases providing information regarding judicial decisions. Ensure the authorities providing these services are adequately resourced to check the veracity of the information contained within these registries and respond to requests for information.- Expedite and effectively resource all other anti-corruption initiatives that improve access to information and other mechanisms to strengthen public scrutiny and oversight. To this end the recommendations outlined in the 2019 ‘Fighting Corruption: A Manifesto,’ produced by Global Witness, Transparency International UK and The Sentry, and supported by a wider collation of the UK’s leading anti-corruption organisations provide a helpful guide for action[2].- Ensure the full implementation of the commitments the UK Government made as part of the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit, including reviewing the effectiveness of whistleblowers protections, on which, to date, there has been no action[3].- Adopt at a legislative level, and implement, measures to combat strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP). As part of this process, review and seek to reform legislation that can be misused to vexatiously threaten journalists; including but, not limited to, laws covering civil defamation, privacy, trade secrets, copyright and national security.- Ensure all violations against journalists in the UK are promptly, thoroughly, independently and effectively investigated, with the perpetrators and instigators brought to justice. Speak out against violations taking place in other countries, acknowledging the role that an investigative journalist’s work - including on financial crime and corruption - may play in the motivation for the violation.- Establish an independent fund to support public interest investigative journalism in the UK and abroad, including a focus on uncovering financial crime and corruption.- Refrain from taking steps to break end-to-end encryption, which would endanger the safety and security of journalists and their sources. For the devolved governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland:- Adopt at a legislative level, and implement, measures to combat strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP). As part of this process, review and seek to reform legislation that can be misused to vexatiously threaten journalists; including but, not limited to, laws covering civil defamation, privacy, trade secrets, copyright and national security.- In particular, ensure reform of libel legislation reduces the possibility of its vexatious misuse, particularly as part of libel tourism.- Provide free and open access to journalists to any local registries related to companies, land and property, as well as, databases providing information regarding judicial decisions. For governments in UK overseas jurisdictions:- Work with the UK Government to towards the speedy and effective implementation of a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership for companies, based in your territories.- Expedite and effectively resource all other anti-corruption initiatives that improve access to information and other mechanisms to strengthen public scrutiny and oversight, including timely responses to requests for information from journalists, wherever they are based in the world. For national regulatory bodies covering the legal sector in the UK:- Prioritise the issue of vexatious legal communication as one of serious concern undermining the reputation of the UK legal community.- Provide guidance to lawyers and law firms on how to identify potential SLAPP cases and avoid the misuse of laws for the purpose of threatening journalists.- Encourage the provision of pro-bono legal support to journalists and media outlets subject to vexatious legal communication and/or SLAPP lawsuits. For organisations supporting journalists and media freedom in the UK and abroad (including NGOs, donor organisations, trade unions and associations):- Provide more funding for legal defence and guidance on how to respond to vexatious legal communication and litigation (SLAPP).- Seek to support funding opportunities for public interest journalism, including on topics related to financial crime and corruption. For journalists and media:- Report all incidences of threats made towards you to the appropriate authorities (where safe to do so) as well as to relevant regional monitoring mechanisms and media freedom NGOs. While not all incidences may receive immediate remedy or redress, such reports will create a better understanding of the threats faced, the instigators and methods used. This can support the development of stronger measures for protection and defence, as well as prioritisation of funding.- Ensure that you have risk protections in place to guard against potential legal challenges, for example media liability insurance or pre-arranged pro-bono legal support you can turn to when incidents arise. Image under (CC).  [1] FPC is using the World Bank’s definition of corruption – “the abuse of public office for private gain,” available on the World Bank’s website - http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/anticorrupt/corruptn/cor02.htm and the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority’s definition of financial crime “any kind of criminal conduct relating to money or to financial services or markets, including any offence involving: (a) fraud or dishonesty; or (b) misconduct in, or misuse of information relating to, a financial market; or (c) handling the proceeds of crime; or (d) the financing of terrorism;” - https://www.handbook.fca.org.uk/handbook/glossary/G416.html?filtertitle=financial%20crime[2] Fighting corruption manifesto, TI-UK, October 2019, https://www.transparency.org.uk/publications/fighting-corruption-manifesto[3] Protecting Whistleblowers, TI-UK, December 2020, https://www.anticorruptionpledgetracker.com/commitments/protecting-whistleblowers/ [post_title] => Unsafe for Scrutiny: Executive Summary & Recommendations [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => unsafe-for-scrutiny-executive-summary-recommendations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-02-23 18:58:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-02-23 17:58:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=5317 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5315 [post_author] => 65 [post_date] => 2020-12-09 00:08:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-12-08 23:08:40 [post_content] => In January 2020, a libel case against Paul Radu, an investigative reporter and co-founder of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), was dropped on the eve of the trial opening at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.[1] An agreed settlement meant the articles that had sparked the defamation claim against him stayed on OCCRP’s website albeit with a qualifying statement that the claimant “categorically denies involvement in money laundering or any unlawful activity.”[2] The resolution of Radu’s case was not picked up by the media and a casual observer might wonder what might be particularly newsworthy. Libel cases happen all the time. It is surely a sign of a healthy democracy to have the right to defend yourself against claims you consider spurious. But as Radu put himself, when writing about the experience a month later, “So, how does a Romanian reporter — or, for that matter, any foreign journalist — get sued in the United Kingdom by an Azerbaijani politician for an article about corruption taking place hundreds of miles away?”[3] The case is important in highlighting two worrying, and interlinked, trends. Firstly, the enduring role London continues to hold as an international libel capital, despite reforms to English and Welsh law in 2013 intended to crack down on libel tourism, and the impact such legal action, or even the threat of it, in the UK can have on journalists here and abroad.[4] Secondly, the level to which UK financial and legal systems are involved in the facilitation of international financial crime and corruption, particularly involving political elites in countries with less than stellar democratic records. These trends sit at direct odds with the UK’s claim to be a global leader in the fight against illicit finance as well as a promoter of media freedom and safety of journalists around the world, having spearheaded, together with Canada, a Global Pledge on Media Freedom in 2019.[5] The Azerbaijani LaundromatThe articles that had prompted the defamation action against Radu were part of OCCRP’s investigation into a corrupt scheme they named the ‘Azerbaijani Laundromat,’ published in September 2017. Their work revealed a “complex money-laundering operation and slush fund that handled $2.9 billion over a two-year period through four shell companies registered in the UK.”[6] OCCRP reported that between 2012-14, members of Azerbaijan’s political elite were using these funds to “pay off European politicians, buy luxury goods, launder money, and otherwise benefit themselves.”[7] This was taking place against the backdrop of a severe crackdown inside the country on civil society and independent media, including the adoption of regressive legislation limiting the activities of independent organisations as well as the arrests and convictions of many activists, human rights defenders, and journalists on politically motivated charges.[8] Amongst those arrested was Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent independent investigative journalist who has been instrumental in uncovering corruption at the highest levels of Azerbaijani society, often linked with UK registered companies. As a consequence of her reporting Ismayilova has been subject to a wide variety of harassment over the last decade, from blackmail to public shaming, accusations of espionage, judicial persecution and arbitrary imprisonment.[9] In February 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that Ismayilova’s rights had been violated when she was arrested in December 2014 and subsequently sentenced to seven and half years as there was no ‘reasonable suspicion’ she committed the crime she was accused of, rather it was an attempt to silence her journalism.[10] While Ismayilova was released from prison in May 2016, her sentence has not been overturned and – despite several ECtHR rulings in her favour - she is still subject to probationary measures, including a travel ban, which has effectively locked her inside the country.[11] Ismayilova was part of the team that worked on OCCRP’s Azerbaijani Laundromat and despite her own persecution continued to support Radu through his libel case in London. During the two years it took the case to come to the trial stage, OCCRP journalists continued their investigation, collecting new information and strengthening their story, which, due to disclosure rules, they were required to share with their opponent who ultimately decided to settle.[12] While the outcome can be seen as positive, the cost, financially as well as in time and effort, of a two-year legal battle – before even reaching trial, arbitrarily brought in London – should not be underestimated. The UK as a leading source of legal threats against journalistsIn November 2020, the Foreign Policy Centre published a report outlining the findings of a global survey, conducted in September – October 2020, with the participation of 63 investigative journalists in 41 countries who work on uncovering financial crime and corruption. Legal threats were identified, by the 71 per cent of the respondents who reported experiencing threats, to have the most impact on their ability to continue working, more so than physical, psychosocial or digital threats.[13] This is reflective of the high volume of potential legal challenges being received, and the cumulative effect that they can have. 73 per cent of all respondents to the survey stated they had received communication(s) threatening legal action as a result of information they had published. More than half of those stated that it made them more cautious as a result. While it is impossible to evaluate the proportion of, and extent to which, the legal challenges respondents reported could be justified, there is evidence that vexatious legal action against journalists has been on the rise. When the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in 2017, she had 47 civil libel suits open against her “most of them brought by Maltese politicians and their business associates,” which she described “as an intimidation strategy as they retreat[ed] under siege” from her reporting into their corrupt practices.[14] After her murder, Caruana Galizia’s family accused the UK based law firm Mishcon de Reya of ‘hounding’ their mother.[15] Intimidation is a key hallmark of vexatious legal action referred to as strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP), where there are no reasonable grounds for a legal case, but rather the intention is to stop or suppress reporting.[16] The aim is not necessarily to reach court where the truth might come to light but rather to scare journalists into complying. SLAPPs are examined in more detail in this publication in the contributions from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Index on Censorship, organisations actively documenting the rise of SLAPPS across Europe in recent years. Both point to England as a legal jurisdiction commonly utilised for SLAPP cases. This was also reflected in the finding from FPC’s survey that the UK is by the far the most frequent international country of origin for legal threats after the journalists’ home countries. The UK was almost as frequent a source of these legal threats (31 per cent), as the EU countries (24 per cent) and the United States (11 per cent) combined. There have been a growing number of foreign freelance journalists, and news outlets without staff and offices in the UK, that have reported receiving letters from London law firms acting on behalf of the people they are investigating.[17] Journalists based abroad therefore remain concerned about libel laws in the UK in a way that they simply do not in other countries. For example, the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), which covers countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, created a guide specifically on English libel law that is mandatory reading for all its journalists. One of the last sections is particularly telling: “For now, our advice regarding third-country libel suits (i.e. not in your country and not in England) is straightforward: I. Know the law in your own country; II. Know the law in England; III. Assume that any third country would be just as strict on libel as England.”[18] Now seems the right time to return to Radu’s question. Why are foreign journalists being threatened with legal action in the UK? And how? Part of the reason the UK remains an attractive jurisdiction is that it is seen as easier to win libel cases in than other parts of the world. This is largely because the ‘burden of proof’ in a UK libel case is on the defendant – i.e. it is not up to the plaintiff to prove that the statement in question is false, rather the defendant must prove that the statement is true – which is often a far harder task than it might at first appear.[19] Investigative journalists are usually in the business of presenting facts, rather than drawing conclusions as to what they might mean. However, as Radu notes “[I]n British courts, a judge determines what your carefully crafted wording means to them as a legal matter. They may decide the ‘legal meaning’ was that someone was the new godfather and had taken over the local crime group. Now you have to prove that judge’s legal meaning in court with real proof, even though you never said it, and maybe never meant it.” Moreover, fighting a defamation case in the UK is a lengthy and expensive process, with potential legal costs spiralling into the thousands if not millions – some of which will not be recoverable even if you win.[20] Therefore, it is understandable why many, often cash-strapped, media outlets would rather comply with the demand to change or remove content than face legal action, even if they know what they have written is true.[21] Due to the common practice in British journalism of offering a ‘right to reply’ to individuals mentioned in an article, these legal challenges can happen prior to publication. If successful the public will be denied the right to know, not only about the information at question but even the fact that a legal challenge against the journalist or media outlet took place. Despite legal reform in 2013 aimed at reducing the impact of libel tourism, it nevertheless holds that you do not have to be British or resident in the UK full time to bring a case. It is only necessary to demonstrate a connection that could establish your ‘standing’ – e.g. a home or business – and that the article in question was read in the UK. As Radu points out when examining his own case, “London is a major real-estate hub that attracts the wealthy and powerful from all over the world — including many people of interest to those reporting on corruption… and its not hard to demonstrate a few British IP addresses accessed the investigative materials.”[22] When looked at in this way, the bar for meeting the criteria can be considered quite low, taking into account that it is easy for those with ample funds not only to purchase property in the UK but also effectively buy residency and eventually citizenship via investment visas.[23] And there is no shortage of companies based in the UK ready to facilitate this for those rich enough to afford it. Further tightening of UK laws to reduce the possibility of libel tourism would be a welcome next step, however it would not improve the situation for journalists and media outlets based in the UK. One potentially positive development, however, is that in 2019 the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, ruled that claimants must demonstrate that they have suffered ‘serious harm’ in order to bring a defamation case.[24] This places an onus on claimants to produce evidence that their reputation has been ‘seriously harmed’, with profit-making entities required to show that they suffered serious financial loss, but it will nevertheless be for judges to decide the merits of individual cases. The London LaundromatThe term ‘laundromat’ was coined by Radu to define large scale, all-purpose financial fraud vehicles that are used to launder billions of dollars.[25] It is now in common parlance amongst those working in the anti-corruption field but garnered some official recognition in July 2020, with the release of ‘The Russia Report’ by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). This report examines potential aspects of the ‘Russian threat to the UK’ and is fairly damning in its findings that “Successive Governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’, and connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures.”[26] The ISC’s report goes on to note that “This has led to a growth industry of ‘enablers’ including lawyers, accountants, and estate agents who are – wittingly or unwittingly – de facto agents of the Russian state.”[27] So far the UK Government response to The Russia Report has been lacklustre, and it has point blank refused to order an independent investigation or public inquiry into another interlinked aspect of the report - Russian interference into UK elections.[28] The remit of the ISC was limited to examining the situation regarding Russia, but in reality the ‘London Laundromat’ and the connected industry of enablers is being utilised by corrupt figures and shady businesses from all over the world. Investigations into transnational financial crime and corruption are rarely published without the mention of some intermediary shell company based in a UK jurisdiction or the funds ultimately being used to pay for property, education or indeed legal and reputation services in the UK. Ben Cowdock and Rachel Davis of Transparency International UK (TI-UK), provide insight into the UK’s complicity in global corruption in their essay for this publication, describing the scale of dirty money as almost beyond imagination. In TI-UK’s 2019 analysis of over 400 corruption cases spanning 116 countries, amounting to economic damage in excess of £324 billion, they identified 582 firms and individuals offering services in the UK, often unwittingly, to corrupt individuals.[29] It would be naïve to think that only Russians might be benefiting from these systems or utilising them as a means of influence on the UK political system. The UK Government would be wise to launch a wide reaching review not only on the systems that facilitate the flow of dirty money through our borders, but also on the impact it has on UK politics and wider society. Shutting down reporting of financial crime and corruptionMore importantly for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression globally, it would be beneficial for the Government and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to examine how the UK’s facilitation of the illegal enrichment of political elites might affect media freedom in their home countries. It is not unsurprising that countries with higher rates of corruption, as measured by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), also tend to have the fewest protections for journalists and the media.[30] Journalists working in authoritarian countries, like Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan (which in 2019 rated 126/198 in the CPI Index and 160/180 in Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index), face a wide range of threats aimed at harassing and suppressing them.[31] A recent example is the crackdown on journalists in Kyrgyzstan (which also rated 126/198 in TI’s CPI and 83/180 in RSF’s Press Freedom Index last year).[32] In November 2019, a joint investigation by RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, OCCRP, and Kloop exposed significant corruption in Kyrgyzstan’s customs service, including the transfer of more than $700 million out of the country.[33] The money was being sent “to Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Dubai — countries where … large real estate investments [were being made].”[34] Almost immediately legal action was launched domestically by those named in the report, which led to the Kyrgyz courts to seemingly fast-track the freezing of the media organisations’ assets, a decision which was later reversed in response to international outcry.[35] Staring even prior to the release of the investigation many of the journalists involved have experiencing harassment, including threats, police investigations, arrest, physical attacks and online trolling.[36] In April 2020, a former Kyrgyz customs official stated that he was told to bring Ali Toktakunov, the journalist who led the joint investigative team, and now based in Prague, back to Kyrgyzstan “dead or alive.”[37] In an essay for this publication, Dmitry Velikovsky, a Russian investigative journalist who worked on the Panama Papers and now part of a new Russian outlet iStories, writes powerfully about the state of media freedom in Russia (which ranked 137/190 in TI’s CPI and 149/180 in RSF’s Press Freedom Index).[38] Similarly, Alina Radu, Editor in Chief of Ziarul de Garda, an investigative newspaper in Moldova (120/198 in TI’s CPI and 91/180 in RSF’s Press Freedom Index), touches upon the challenges she and her colleagues experience while investigating corruption, including the 2014 banking scandal, which saw one billion USD stolen from the country with the involvement of at least 48 UK companies.[39] Threats and harassment against journalists, regardless of type, generally need to be funded. Perhaps with the exception of uncoordinated social media trolling or individual retribution, the instigator typically needs to hire or bribe an intermediary(ies) to carry out the threats, legal or otherwise. Corrupt figures able to get away with financial crime are presumably well-resourced to fund these attempts to stop journalists from publishing information about their wrongdoing and to contribute to a broader suppression of information of public importance.[40] Western journalists are not immune to underhand and nefarious tactics to pressure them to stop reporting. In the course of his five-year investigation into Wirecard, a German financial technology firm, the Financial Times journalist Dan McCrum was subject to “furious online abuse, hacking, electronic eavesdropping, physical surveillance and some of London’s most expensive lawyers.”[41] Writing about his experience, in September 2020, McCrum noted that “Observers of the Wirecard affair have tended to criticise the German establishment for the fact that this fraud ran for 20 years unchecked — poor auditing, zero regulatory oversight. And yet almost all the external professionals hired by the company to protect its reputation were based in London.”[42] The result of McCrum’s tenacity in continuing to report despite such harassment, was that he brought to light what has since been described as the “biggest accounting fraud case since the Enron scandal in 2011” and Wirecard’s ultimate demise.[43] McCrum’s experience is not singular. Clare Rewcastle Brown in her contribution to this publication describes the surveillance, smear campaigns and digital hacking, on top of the significant legal challenges, she experienced while investigating Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal. Rewcastle Brown notes how law firms operate in combination with a network of public relations consultants, corporate investigators and private protection agencies. Her reporting led to the downfall of the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who is now in prison, with the believed masterminded behind the scandal, businessman Jho Low, currently on the run from justice in Malaysia, Singapore and the US.[44] Nor are these tactics used strictly on journalists, Global Witness - an international NGO headquartered in London, which aims to end the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system, has also been subject to a variety of threats and harassment.[45] In the summer of 2020, they published an investigation into how a controversial mining magnate seemingly used an alleged international money laundering network stretching from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Europe and Israel to avoid the US sanctions he has been subject to since 2017.[46] In a separate article, Global Witness documented the attempts to intimidate them and their partners, the Platform for the Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), into dropping their investigation, before and after publication, including a sustained smear campaign on social media and a letter from a London based law firm, Carter Ruck, threatening legal action.[47] Despite their involvement, three defamation complaints have since been filed against Global Witness and PPLAAF in France.[48] Reputation LaunderingReputation laundering can be seen to come in two forms; smearing or undermining the standing of those who seek to publish information about wrongdoing, as described above, or as part of a positive PR campaign to cover up or whitewash over negative events. In the wake of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, a Guardian investigation found that “London has become a hub for global Saudi public relations and media influence campaigns, with British firms earning millions of pounds from efforts to improve the image of the kingdom and its regional allies in recent years.”[49] Two years on, the Saudi government is still ‘aggressively’ bankrolling high-profile events featuring major international artists, celebrities, and sports figures while those behind the journalist’s murder have still not been brought to justice.[50] The accused are currently being tried in Istanbul in absentia.[51] Ahead of the G20 summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia in November 2020, the UN special rapporteur who investigated Khashoggi’s murder, Agnès Callamard, called on G20 countries to take a moral stand - "The truth is that no country should be able to buy its way out of accountability."[52] In a notable step towards creating some level of accountability, the UK launched ‘Magnitsky style’ sanctions in July 2020.[53] This could be an important tool both in sanctioning corrupt individuals but also those involved in crimes against journalists. Among those to be targeted by these new sanctions were 20 Saudi nationals involved in the murder of Khashoggi. However, as Jessica Ní Mhainín of Index on Censorship points out in her essay reviewing the UK’s record on media freedom in this publication, such progress was later undermined by reports that the UK’s Defence Secretary had later apologised for the sanctions to his Saudi counterpart. If true, this action places a question mark over the integrity of potential future sanctions, albeit the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country plagued with human rights abuses, has long cast a damaging shadow over the UK’s reputation.[54] Reputational Risks to the UKThe UK and its offshore jurisdictions are not the only locations used for the facilitation of financial crime and corruption. However, the extent to which the UK is a facilitator of financial crime, a destination for illicit money and the source of a wide range of enablers to support corrupt individuals is alarming. The most recent FinCEN Files investigation, released in September 2020, while ostensibly a review of suspicious activity reports (SARs) leaked from the records of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an arm of the US Treasury, actually served once again to highlight the UK’s role as an international hub for money laundering. British companies were named more than 3,000 times in the leak, more than any other country – and it brought to light that the US Treasury refers to the UK as a ‘higher risk jurisdiction’.[55] In August 2020, the BBC podcast series ‘The Missing Cryptoqueen’, which investigates the disappearance of Ruja Ignatova the Bulgarian founder of Onecoin, a cryptocurrency scam, pointed to the use of legal threats against the UK’s own regulatory institutions.[56] In 2016, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) put a warning notice about Onecoin on its website, but this was taken down the following year after the FCA was challenged on the legal basis for the warning.[57] The investigative journalists behind the podcast, Jamie Bartlett and Georgia Catt, alleged that the notice was removed because of pressure from solicitors acting on Ignatova’s behalf. According to retired libel lawyer David Hooper, interviewed as part of the podcast, it should have been obvious to the regulator that OneCoin's promoters were going to use this "as a marketing opportunity".[58] Sales of OneCoin in the UK rose after the warning was removed, according to victim support groups.[59] About two billion pounds from across the world was spent on OneCoin tokens, including tens of millions of pounds from British families, in what turned out to be a pyramid scheme.[60] This situation should be a matter of embarrassment for the UK and call into question the efficacy of institutions such as the FCA. Another contributor to this publication Peter Sabo, a Slovak journalist who received a bullet in his letterbox this summer, took on his role at investigative news outlet Aktuality.sk after the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his finance Martina Kusnirova in 2017. Sabo together with Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcová, who previously worked with Kuciak, write about the ease with which money flows out of countries like theirs via shell companies in UK jurisdictions, particularly offshore. In contrast, they highlight not only the difficulties they face as journalists getting information back from the UK, but also those experienced by authorities in their countries seeking to follow up on investigations of corrupt figures domestically. The UK should be seen to be supporting such initiatives not hindering them. As the UK sets out to reposition itself post-Brexit as a ‘Global Britain’, its reputation is more important than ever. Many of the money laundering schemes have relied on utilising the UK’s hitherto positive reputation and standing. However, it is clear that this reputation is being undermined and eroded at a critical time for establishing future financial and trade relationships. In October 2020, the UK signed its first post-Brexit agreement with Ukraine. This ‘Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement’ is geared towards strengthening UK cooperation “in political, security and foreign matters with Ukraine, while also securing continued preferential trade for businesses and consumers.”[61] One wonders how this sits with the fact that more than 700 UK companies have been blacklisted in Ukraine for suspicious activity, with the term ‘Scottish Companies’ reported to have become synonymous for ‘shady’ amongst Ukrainians.[62] If the UK is serious about realising its stated aims, both in terms of combatting corruption and promoting media freedom globally, it needs to re-assess how they match up with reality. Investigative journalists from around the world have repeatedly demonstrated their critical role in uncovering financial crime and corruption, the first step in ensuring accountability and redress. Yet if that role is threatened, if journalists themselves are prevented from continuing to bring matters of important public interest to light it only increases the scope for financial crime and corruption to continue unchecked. Another element of concern in this regard is the UK’s continued effort, as part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, to break end-to-end encryption, a resource that is particularly valuable for journalists not only in their investigations, but to keep them and their sources safe.[63] It would be preferable to see the UK focus its energy and resources into breaking the cycle of illicit money flows and those services that support them in the UK and its overseas territories. This would go a long way to not only countering financial crime, but also other crimes related to it. Additionally, it would improve the situation for those journalists who report on corruption and those experiencing repressive media environments in highly corrupt countries. After all, prevention is better than cure. As OCCRP’s investigation into the Azerbaijani Laundromat, which sparked the legal case against Radu, noted, the money laundered through the UK was used, amongst other things, to buy the ‘silence’ of several European politicians.[64] Silence about the human rights abuses that were, and are continuing to happen, in Azerbaijan. The UK should not, and must not, allow itself to be complicit in creating opportunities for such silence. Instead, it should seek to utilise the opportunity of a new ‘Global Britain’ platform not only speak out, but underpin it’s stated aims with concrete action that can set a positive example for the world to follow. Image under (CC).  [1] Jonathan Price, Jennifer Robinson & Claire Overman, Azerbaijan MP discontinues defamation case against investigative journalist Paul Radi, Doughty Street Chambers, January 2020, https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/news/azerbaijan-mp-discontinues-defamation-case-against-investigative-journalist-paul-radu[2] Azerbaijani Laundromat - Agreed Statement, OCCRP, January 2020, https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/the-agreed-statement[3] Paul Radu, How to Successfully Defend Yourself in Her Majesty’s Libel Courts, GIJN, February 2020, https://gijn.org/2020/02/26/how-to-successfully-defend-yourself-in-her-majestys-libel-courts/[4] While defamation laws were reformed in England and Wales in 2013, the same is not true of the laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland is currently going through a reform process, with the introduction of The Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament on 2 December 2019, which is still under review (see https://www.lawscot.org.uk/members/journal/issues/vol-65-issue-02/defamation-social-media-and-the-right-to-insult/). Northern Ireland has not updated its libel laws since 1955, but there has been an increased effort by civil society to call for reform in recent months (see https://www.irishnews.com/news/2020/12/02/news/media-conference-calls-for-reform-of-libel-laws-and-raises-conerns-about-threats-to-journalists-2148009/)[5] HM Treasury, John Glen MP and The Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP, UK takes top spot in fight against dirty money, Gov.uk, December 2018, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-takes-top-spot-in-fight-against-dirty-money; FCO and FCDO, Policy Paper: Global pledge on media freedom, Gov.uk, July 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-pledge-on-media-freedom/global-pledge-on-media-freedom[6] The Azerbaijani Laundromat, OCCRP, September 2017, https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/[7] The Azerbaijani Laundromat, OCCRP, September 2017, https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/[8] Azerbaijan: Transparency Group Delays Reinstatement, ARTICLE 19, June 2017, https://www.article19.org/resources/azerbaijan-transparency-group-delays-reinstatement/[9] Azerbaijan: ECHR ruling confirms government failing to protect journalists from abuse, ARTICLE 19, January 2019, https://www.article19.org/resources/azerbaijan-echr-ruling-confirms-government-failing-to-protect-journalists-from-abuse/[10] Amal Clooney and Nani Jansen Reventlow, European Court of Human Rights rules in favour of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, Doughty Street Chambers, February 2020, https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/news/european-court-human-rights-rules-favour-azerbaijani-journalist-khadija-ismayilova[11] RFE/RL, Azerbaijan Urged To Lift Journalist’s ‘Unjust’ Travel Ban, Azerbaijan, RFE/RL, January 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-urged-to-lift-journalist-s-unjust-travel-ban/30380414.html; To note, two other ECtHR judgements – handed down in 2019 and 2020 - have been found in Ismayilova’s favour in connection to a 2012 a smear campaign, which involved state sponsored newspapers publishing a sex tape taken by hidden cameras in her flat and the authorities failure to investigate, violating her rights to privacy and freedom of expression (See: European Court’s third ruling in favour of journalist Khadija Ismayilova is ultimate indictment of Azerbaijani authorities, Amnesty International, May 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/05/european-courts-third-ruling-in-favour-of-journalist-khadija-ismayilova-is-ultimate-indictment-of-azerbaijani-authorities/).[12] Paul Radu, How to Successfully Defend Yourself in Her Majesty’s Libel Courts, GIJN, February 2020, https://gijn.org/2020/02/26/how-to-successfully-defend-yourself-in-her-majestys-libel-courts/[13] Unsafe for Scrutiny, FPC, November 2020, https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Unsafe-for-Scrutiny-November-2020.pdf[14] Unsafe for Scrutiny, FPC, November 2020, https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Unsafe-for-Scrutiny-November-2020.pdf[15] Jonathan Ames, Law firm ‘hounded’ Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia before murder, The Times, June 2018, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/law-firm-hounded-maltese-journalist-daphne-caruana-galizia-before-murder-62dqhl9g7; Jonathan Ames, Law firm ‘ hounded’ Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia before murder, The Times, June 2018, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/law-firm-hounded-maltese-journalist-daphne-caruana-galizia-before-murder-62dqhl9g7[16] David Carnes, Libel Law: past, present and future, All About Law, December 2019, https://www.allaboutlaw.co.uk/commercial-awareness/legal-spotlight/libel-law-past-present-and-future-[17] Juliette Garside, English law ‘abused by the powerful to threaten foreign journalists’, The Guardian, November 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/nov/02/english-law-abused-by-the-powerful-to-threaten-foreign-journalists[18] English libel law for journalist: A brief Guide, Balkan Fellowship of Journalist Excellence, http://fellowship.birn.eu.com/en/file/show/English%20libel%20law%20for%20journalists.pdf[19] David Carnes, Libel Law: past, present and future, All About Law, December 2019, https://www.allaboutlaw.co.uk/commercial-awareness/legal-spotlight/libel-law-past-present-and-future-[20] In England and Wales, the winning party in civil litigation is entitled to recover costs from the losing party. However, there is sometimes a discrepancy between the actual costs of litigation, which are the costs that each party pays to its own lawyers for running the case, and the recoverable costs, which the winning party recovers from the losing party by order of the court or by agreement. https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/fixed-recoverable-costs-supplemental-report-online-3.pdf[21] Offering a ‘right to reply’ ahead of publication is a common practice exercised in British journalism (compared to for example the United States, where it is not usually exercised). It is for example a ‘fairness obligation’ to those who are the subject of significant criticism or allegations of wrongdoing under the UK media regulator Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, see - https://www.bbc.com/editorialguidelines/guidance/right-of-reply. Offering a ‘right to reply’ is widely seen as part of a principled approach to journalism, and considered useful as part of a ‘public interest’ defence against a defamation claim. However, since reform in 2013 of the defamation act it is not necessarily as strong a factor in building a defence as before, see https://www.pinsentmasons.com/out-law/news/public-interest-defence-defamation[22] Paul Radu, How to Successfully Defend Yourself in Her Majesty’s Libel Courts, GIJN, February 2020, https://gijn.org/2020/02/26/how-to-successfully-defend-yourself-in-her-majestys-libel-courts/[23] British citizenship by investment, Imperial & Legal, https://imperiallegal.com/british-citizenship-by-investment/[24] Jane Croft, UK libel claimants must prove 'serious harm' to reputation, says court, Financial Times, June 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/337408bc-8d02-11e9-a24d-b42f641eca37; Judgement - Lachaux (Respondent) v Independent Print Ltd and another (Appellants), United Kingdom Supreme Court, June 2019, https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2019/27.html[25] Paul Radu, OCCRP, https://www.occrp.org/en/aboutus/staff/paul-radu[26] Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Press Notice, https://docs.google.com/a/independent.gov.uk/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=aW5kZXBlbmRlbnQuZ292LnVrfGlzY3xneDoxMmRkZmU2MjQ4ZWEzNDI0[27] Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Press Notice, https://docs.google.com/a/independent.gov.uk/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=aW5kZXBlbmRlbnQuZ292LnVrfGlzY3xneDoxMmRkZmU2MjQ4ZWEzNDI0[28] Luke Harding, Legal action taken against PM over refusal to investigate Kremlin meddling, The Guardian, October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/oct/29/legal-action-taken-against-pm-over-refusal-to-investigate-kremlin-meddling[29] Transparency International UK, At Your Service: Investigating how UK businesses and institutions help corrupt individuals and regimes launder their money and reputations, October 2019 https://www.transparency.org.uk/publications/at-your-service[30] Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International, https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi; The high costs journalists pay when reporting on corruption, Transparency International, May 2020, https://www.transparency.org/en/news/the-high-costs-journalists-pay-when-reporting-on-corruption[31] Azerbaijan, World Map, Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International, 2019, https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2019/results/aze; Ranking 2019, 2019 World Press Freedom Index, RSF, https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2019?#[32] Ranking 2019, 2019 World Press Freedom Index, RSF, https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2019; Kyrgyzstan, World Map, Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International, 2019, https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2019/results/kgz[33] Plunder and patronage in the heart of Central Asia, OCCRP, November 2019, https://www.occrp.org/en/plunder-and-patronage/[34] RFE/RL, OCCRP, and Kloop, A Real Estate Empire Build on Dark Money, OCCRP, December 2019, https://www.occrp.org/en/plunder-and-patronage/a-real-estate-empire-built-on-dark-money[35] Catherine Putz, After Exposing Corruption, Media Under Pressure in Kyrgyzstan, The Diplomat, December 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/12/after-exposing-corruption-media-under-pressure-in-kyrgyzstan/ ;[36] RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service investigative reporter receives death threat, U.S. Agency for Global Media, April 2020, https://www.usagm.gov/2020/04/07/rfe-rl-kyrgyz-service-investigative-reporter-receives-death-threat/[37] Ayzirek Imanaliyeva, Kyrgyzstan: Former Matraimov protégé alleges plot against journalist, Eurasianet, April 2020, https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-former-matraimov-protege-alleges-plot-against-journalist[38] Ranking 2019, 2019 World Press Freedom Index, RSF,  https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2019; Russia, World Map, Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International, https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2019/results/rus[39] Moldova, World Map, Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International, 2019, https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2019/results/mda; Tim Whewell, The billion-dollar-ex-council flat, BBC News, October 2015, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34445201[40] Unsafe for Scrutiny, FPC, November 2020, https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Unsafe-for-Scrutiny-November-2020.pdf[41] Dan McCrum, Wirecard and me: Dan McCrum on exposing a criminal enterprise, Financial Times, September 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/745e34a1-0ca7-432c-b062-950c20e41f03[42] Dan McCrum, Wirecard and me: Dan McCrum on exposing a criminal enterprise, Financial Times, September 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/745e34a1-0ca7-432c-b062-950c20e41f03[43] Janet W. Lee, WME Signs Wirecard Scandal Journalists Dan McCrum, Paul Murphy, Variety, August 2020, https://variety.com/2020/biz/news/wirecard-scandal-journalists-dan-mccrum-paul-murphy-wme-1234726877/[44] Mary Jolley, How 1MBD fugitive Jho Low tried to bargain for his freedom, Al Jazeera, November 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/11/16/how-1mdb-fugitive-jho-low-tried-to-bargain-for-his-freedom[45] Global Witness – About us, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/about-us/[46] Undermining Sanctions, Global Witness, October 2020, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/corruption-and-money-laundering/undermining-sanctions/[47] Intimidation and scare tactics won’t work on us – we will continue to demand real action to bring greater transparency to DRC’s mining sector, Global Witness, July 2020, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/intimidation-and-scare-tactics-wont-work-on-us-we-will-continue-to-demand-real-action-to-bring-greater-transparency-to-drcs-mining-sector/[48] France: Reprisals against PPLAAF and Global Witness intensify with new SLAPP procedures, Whistleblowing International Network, November 2020, https://whistleblowingnetwork.org/News-Events/News/News-Archive/France-Reprisals-against-PPLAAF-and-Global-Witnes[49] Jim Waterson, Saudi Arabia pays UK firm millions to boost image, The Guardian, October 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/19/saudi-arabia-pays-uk-firms-millions-to-boost-image[50] Saudi Arabia: ‘Image Laundering’ Conceals Abuses, Human Rights Watch, October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/02/saudi-arabia-image-laundering-conceals-abuses[51] Jamal Khashoggi murder: Trial of 20 Saudis in absentia resumes in Turkey, BBC News, November 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-55060088;[52] Caroline Hawley, G20: Saudi Arabia’s human rights problems that won’t go away, BBC News, November 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-55002921[53] UK imposes sanctions against human rights abusers, BBC News, July 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-53303100[54] Armida L. M. van Rij, Britain’s relationship with Saudia Arabia does far more damage than it’s worth, The Conversation, September 2018, https://theconversation.com/britains-relationship-with-saudi-arabia-does-far-more-damage-than-its-worth-102619[55] The Times view on Britain’s role in money laundering: Dirty Money, The Times, September 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-times-view-on-britains-role-in-money-laundering-dirty-money-bs60mlb5c[56] Jamie Bartlett, Missing Cryptoqueen: Follow the money, BBC News, August 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08mqtnj[57] The podcast alleges that the message was removed because of pressure from solicitors acting on Ignatova’s behalf.[58] Jamie Bartlett, Missing Cryptoqueen: Why did the FCA drop its warning about the OneCoin scam?, BBC News, August 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53721017[59] Kenza Bryan, £2bn missing – but City regulators takes down warning about OneCoin, The Times, August 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/2bn-missing-but-city-regulator-takes-down-warning-about-onecoin-5cqq2k39k[60] Jamie Bartlett, Missing Cryptoqueen: Why did the FCA drop its warning about the OneCoin scam?, BBC News, August 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53721017[61] FCDO, Department for International Trade, UK Export Finance, The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, and The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, UK and Ukraine sign Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement, Gov.uk, October 2020, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-ukraine-sign-political-free-trade-and-strategic-partnership-agreement[62] David Leask and Richard Smith, Revealed: More than 700 British firms blacklisted in Ukraine for suspicious activity, openDemocracy, May 2020, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/dark-money-investigations/revealed-more-700-british-firms-blacklisted-ukraine-suspicious-activity/[63] James Cook, Facebook defends unbreakable encryption despite pressure from governments, The Telegraph, October 2020,https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2020/10/11/five-eyes-alliance-warns-tech-companies-encryption-creates-severe/; Department of Justice – Office of Public Affairs, International Statement: End-To-End Encryption and Public Safety, The Unites States Department of Justice, October 2020, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/international-statement-end-end-encryption-and-public-safety[64] The Azerbaijani Laundromat, OCCRP, September 2017, https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/ [post_title] => The UK as a key nexus for protecting media freedom and preventing corruption globally [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-uk-as-a-key-nexus-for-protecting-media-freedom-and-preventing-corruption-globally [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-02-23 18:58:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-02-23 17:58:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=5315 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5284 [post_author] => 65 [post_date] => 2020-12-09 00:00:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-12-08 23:00:08 [post_content] => While the UK, and its offshore jurisdictions, are not the only locations used for the facilitation of financial crime and corruption, the extent to which the UK is a facilitator of financial crime, a destination for illicit money and the source of a wide range of enablers to support corrupt individuals as well as suppress public interest reporting is alarming. As the contributors to this publication have illustrated this undermines the UK’s claim to be both a global leader in the fight against illicit finance as well as a promoter of media freedom and safety of journalists around the world. If the UK is serious about taking steps to realise these important aims, the first must be to acknowledge and re-assess the gap between its aspirations and reality. Investigative journalists have repeatedly demonstrated their critical role in creating transparency by bringing financial crime and corruption to light, the crucial first step in ensuring accountability and redress. Successive large-scale transnational investigations, conducted by huge global networks of several hundred journalists, have evidenced how political and business elites, as well as organised crime groups, all over the world have avoided law enforcement and misused financial and legal systems to facilitate the theft of public funds, tax avoidance, money laundering, bribery and other forms of crime and corruption. Journalists, working as part of these networks or independently, have demonstrated that in a number of cases they are able to follow leads, pick apart complex schemes and identify individuals and entities involved in wrong-doing far more effectively than those working in law enforcement bodies, which often cite journalists’ findings in their official reports. It is the fallout of these journalists’ investigations that has led to high profile resignations; changes to financial regulation; arrests and indictments against criminal figures; as well as the recovery of several billion in fines and seizure of illicit funds.[1] Yet the importance of investigative journalism, and how the evidence journalists’ uncover can be utilised by the authorities, is woefully missing in official Government strategies, such as the UK’s 2019-2022 Economic Crime Plan and the 2017-22 Anti-Corruption Strategy.[2] Moreover, if the role of investigative journalists is threatened, if they are prevented from continuing their work, or unfairly restricted due to threats and harassments, it only increases the scope for financial crime and corruption to continue unchecked. Investigative journalism is hard enough, especially in countries where media freedom is not respected, without additional challenges – such as vexatious legal action or surveillance and smear campaigns - enabled by companies in the UK. Steps must be taken to redress issues in the UK legal system that allow for SLAPP cases, but UK law firms and other companies should also be vigilant in ensuring that their services are not being utilised to cover up financial crime and corruption. Tools such as encryption are crucial for shielding journalists against surveillance and fishing attempts for information that can be used to blackmail or smear them, as well as to protect their sources. The UK’s continued pursuit, as part of the Five Eye’s Alliance, to undermine end-to-end encryption can therefore be seen as regressive action towards media freedom. Ultimately, breaking the cycle of financial crime and corruption taking place with the facilitation of services in the UK’s borders should be the UK Government’s priority. This would go a long way to not only countering financial crime, but removing resources from those individuals who would wish to use utilise them to silence journalists who write about their wrongdoings. After all, prevention is better than cure. Image under (CC). [1] OCCRP, Impact to Date, March 2020, https://www.occrp.org/en/impact-to-date; ICIJ Story, https://www.icij.org/about/icijs-story/; Douglas Dalby and Amy Wilson-Chapman, Panama Papers helps recover more than 1.2 billion around the world, ICIJ, April 2019, https://www.icij.org/investigations/panama-papers/panama-papers-helps-recover-more-than-1-2-billion-around-the-world/[2] HM Treasury and Home Office, Policy Paper – Economic crime plan 2019 to 2022, Gov.uk, July 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/economic-crime-plan-2019-to-2022; Home Office, DFID, and FCDO, Policy Paper – UK anti-corruption strategy 2017 to 2022, Gov.uk, December 2017, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-anti-corruption-strategy-2017-to-2022 [post_title] => Unsafe for Scrutiny: Conclusions [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => unsafe-for-scrutiny-conclusions [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-02-23 19:00:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-02-23 18:00:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=5284 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ))
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Unsafe for Scrutiny: Examining the pressures faced by journalists uncovering financial crime and corruption around the world

Report highlights UK's role as top international source of legal threats to journalists

02/11/20

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