THE International Consortium of Investigative Journalists' global investigation known as the Panama Papers on Monday won the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting.
Regarded as the pre-eminent honour in journalism, the Pulitzer Prizes are administered by the Columbia University in New York City. This year marks the 101st year since the awards were introduced.
The Panama Papers project, which included The Namibian newspaper and over 300 journalists, showed how the rich create offshore shell companies in tax havens to avoid paying taxes, conceal their riches, and even engage in crimes such as money laundering.
The Pulitzer Prize board lauded the year-long investigation for "using a collaboration of more than 300 reporters on six continents to expose the hidden infrastructure and global scale of offshore tax havens."
"This honour is a testament to the enterprise and teamwork of our staff and our partners here in the United States and around the world," Gerard Ryle, ICIJ's director, said.
"We are honoured that the Pulitzer Board recognised the ground-breaking revelations and worldwide impact that the Panama Papers' collaboration produced."
The Panama Papers' investigation exposed offshore companies linked to more than 140 politicians in more than 50 countries - including 14 current or former world leaders.
It also uncovered offshore hideaways tied to mega-banks, corporate bribery scandals, drug kingpins, Syria's air war on its own citizens and a network of people close to Russian president Vladimir Putin who shuffled as much as US$2 billion around the world.
The Panama Papers' reporting team began work in early 2015. Members of the team published and broadcast their first stories in April 2016, and continued producing stories throughout 2016.
They pored over millions of confidential emails and corporate documents written in French, English, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic, and used shoe-leather reporting to track down additional documents and verify facts on six continents.
The Namibian's investigative unit produced five investigative pieces as part of the Panama Papers' global reporting.
The Namibian's first Panama Papers story explained how a shell company linked to a bribery scandal in Brazil paid US$1 million to another firm wholly owned by a Trinidadian politician as part of a bid to win a US$340 million tender to expand the Walvis Bay port in Namibia.
This appears to be a money laundering scheme to shift money from one company to another, while pretending to bid for the Namibian port contract.
Another story was about Letitia Diergaardt, a receptionist in Namibia, who is linked to nine offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. Diergaardt is what could be called a "zombie director" of shell companies.
She claims not to know about the links to those offshore companies.
Practically, the sole function of an offshore corporate director is to cloak the identity of the real owner of a company or trust.
Some of the companies linked to Diergaardt are linked to arms dealers, Moldovan oil oligarch Anatol Stati, and others.
Another report looked at how Namibian lawyer Henner Diekmann was linked to a web of offshore companies with connections to the notorious Italian Mafia known as the Cosa Nostra.
Diekmann has been denying any connections to the Mafia to The Namibian since 2015, but intelligence documents between the Namibian and Italian governments as well as the Panama Papers placed him in the mix as the owner and director of Mafia-linked firms.
The other two stories were about two Namibian arms dealers and a Russian billionaire.
- Additional reporting ICIJ