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Unsafe for Scrutiny: Conclusions

Article by Susan Coughtrie

December 9, 2020

Unsafe for Scrutiny: Conclusions

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,; ICIJ Story,; Douglas Dalby and Amy Wilson-Chapman, Panama Papers helps recover more than 1.2 billion around the world, ICIJ, April 2019,

[2] HM Treasury and Home Office, Policy Paper – Economic crime plan 2019 to 2022,, July 2019,; Home Office, DFID, and FCDO, Policy Paper – UK anti-corruption strategy 2017 to 2022,, December 2017,

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