Turkey Offers Lesson in Media Intimidation

Last week, Turkey sentenced Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak to more than two years in prison for doing her job. Fortunately, she was in New York at the time. Albayrak thus avoided joining more than 81 journalists who have been imprisoned in Turkey just since December, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Turkey has the highest number of journalists jailed in a single country since CPJ began to keep records more than three decades ago. After a suspiciously incompetent coup attempt in July 2016, Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared war on the very idea of a free media. His campaign against dissent and inconvenient facts has been brutally effective. Despite constitutional guarantees of press freedom, Erdoğan has employed criminal statutes and an overly broad antiterrorism law to clamp down on journalists, jailing reporters and shuttering more than 150 media outlets. Public vilification of journalists, physical intimidation, and economic pressures have all contributed to a drastic winnowing of freedom of expression in Turkey.

Officially, Albayrak was charged with engaging in terrorist propaganda on behalf of the outlawed Kurdish separatist organization the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK. In reality, she did exactly what journalists are supposed to do. Albayrak traveled to Kurdish areas of Turkey and spoke to all sides, including multiple government sources. She then reported on what she saw. Her story from 2015 is extraordinarily fair and evenhanded. It’s exemplary journalism.

What’s clear is that the specifics of the story were not the issue. Erdoğan objects to the very idea that journalists should be able to make unbiased assessments of facts and report them. If he can take out a reporter for an American newspaper, it sends a signal to every journalist that they are not safe and that certain subjects are verboten.

To his credit, the WSJ’s editor Gerard Baker issued a strong statement in reaction to the sentence:

We are appealing this decision and will continue to defend Ayla with everything we have at our disposal. But let me be clear: Ayla was convicted for doing her job as a journalist. This conviction should send shudders through everyone around the world who values a free press. Ayla of course is not alone. The Turkish authorities have imprisoned dozens of journalists in the last two years.  No news organization should be intimidated by this sort of repression and we will not be.

It’s a worthy sentiment, particularly when President Donald Trump threatens to shut down news outlets and attacks individual reporters on social media here at home.

Panama Papers Update October 8, 2017

More than eighteen months after the first publication, the effects of the Panama Papers continue to reverberate around the globe. In Argentina, where political partisanship is a blood sport, Mossack Fonseca companies have become electoral fodder.

For years, Argentinian prosecutors and journalists have hunted for ill-gotten gains belonging to former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband’s. Initially, some of the fruits of the couple’s corruption were suspected to have flowed through a series of Mossfon Nevada shell companies. You can read more about the remarkable tale of the search for those assets in my forthcoming book the Secrecy World. And today, the former president and her children are currently under indictment over separate corruption charges, which Kirchner claims are politically motivated.

Recently, Laura Alonso, the head of Argentina’s anti-corruption office, said that Fernández de Kirchner also owns more than 60 properties in Miami purchased through “dirty money.” The properties are linked to an aide, Héctor “el Gordo” Muñoz. The Miami Herald located 16 properties, including a CVS drug store in Little Havana, in the Panama Papers connected Muñoz. The paper found no evidence of Kirchner’s direct involvement.

Alsono works for Argentina’s current president Mauricio Macri, an archrival of Kirchner. Macri himself was connected to Mossfon companies. After the revelations came out, a judge investigated allegations the companies were involved in money laundering and exonerated the president.

In Argentina, it’s nigh impossible to separate the allegations flying around from their political context. Last month, Fernández de Kirchner won a Senate seat against a Macri-backed candidate in what many see as a precursor to a battle royale in the 2019 presidential election. Thanks to the Panama Papers and other leak investigations, the offshore holdings of the candidates will surely figure in the campaigns.

Meanwhile in Colombia, a slew of businessmen found in the Mossack Fonseca files were arrested in late September. They are accused of committing fraud and tax evasion, according to Colombia reports. At least fourteen major businesses, including a money-transfer company, are implicated in the investigation. Colombia’s financial crimes prosecutor alleged that Mossack Fonseca Colombia charged a fee between 2.5% and 4% for the value of assets held offshore.

Early Monday, Pakistan’s anti-corruption authorities arrested Muhammad Safdar, the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in connection with corruption cases stemming from the Panama Papers. Sharif, his daughter, son-in-law, and his two sons all face charges over allegations the family held undisclosed assets abroad through secret Mossack Fonseca companies. The charges resulted in Sharif’s removal from office in July.