In May 2014, Davet and Lhomme reached out to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a global network of more than 190 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries specialized in in-depth reporting of high profile, cross-border issues. In April 2013, the ICIJ had published the Offshore Leaks, a report disclosing the true owners behind more than of 100.000 offshore companies.
Davet and Lhomme hoped to leverage the ICIJ’s worldwide network of investigative journalists and the organization’s expertise in mining data leaks. “Working with the ICIJ, we could tackle the technical challenges associated with the project with other news organizations. It also meant that the story would get better exposure” says Léchenet. With ICIJ’s help, the investigation went from mobilizing a few persons in Paris to a collaborative project with more than 150 journalists around the world. Experienced journalists from CBC/Radio Canada, Haaretz (Israel), La Nación (Argentina) or The Guardian pooled their knowledge and resources to analyse the Swiss Leaks data.
But just adding more human resources was not enough. Through its Data & Research Unit, the ICIJ provided a much need data analysis expertise to the project and created the tools to make the leak searchable to reporters. They first had to recreate the HSBC client database from plain Excel files. Secondly, they used computer programming techniques to connect every name to one or several countries. And then, the most important step: to be able to turn the data into a graph format to explore the connections between clients.
“While working on Offshore Leaks, I learnt how important graph analysis is when investigating corruption”, says Mar Cabra, editor of the unit. “Connections are key to understand what the real story is and who’s doing business with who. We decided early on that we needed to use a graph-based approach for Swiss Leaks.”