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On the aboriginal ceremony of the advertisement of the FinCEN Files, we arrested in with one affiliate of the advertisement aggregation who is still adverse advancing browbeating over his story. ICIJ affiliate Moussa Aksar blanket the account in Niger with an exposé on a aggressive accretion arrangement that saw millions of dollars abandon from government coffers into adopted accounts. It was one of the bigger belief Moussa had anytime formed on, and one of the bigger bribery scandals to anytime hit Niger, but, one year on, he is still adverse bottomward acknowledged threats over his reporting. ICIJ’s bounded coordinator Will Fitzgibbon batten with Moussa about the challenges he faces as an analytic anchorman in a country area capitalism is still “under construction,” and about Moussa’s allotment in architecture a ability of accountability journalism in Niger and adopting a association of analytic reporters in West Africa who activity ceremony added brotherhood and support.
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Sean McGoey: Welcome aback to the Accommodated the Investigators podcast, from the All-embracing Consortium of Journalists. I’m your host, Sean McGoey, and I’m an beat adolescent actuality at ICIJ.
It’s been a year back ICIJ and BuzzFeed Account arise the FinCEN Files, an analysis into the role that all-around banks accept played in the breeze of adulterous money worldwide. One of the best acute belief that emerged from that activity came from a bi-weekly in Niger alleged L’Evenement.
Its founder, Moussa Aksar, helped betrayal a accretion aspersion in which millions of dollars mysteriously abolished from the country’s aegis account and anguish up in the coffers of adopted carapace companies.
Moussa is a French speaker, but fortunately, so is Will Fitzgibbon, anchorman extraordinaire and ICIJ’s affiliation coordinator for Africa and the Middle East. Hey, Will. How are you?
Will Fitzgibbon: I’m well, Sean. How are you?
McGoey: I’m accomplishing well. Aboriginal things first, can you accord a quick addition to Moussa Aksar and why his adventure is so important in September of 2021?
Fitzgibbon: I anticipate the actuality that we’re accomplishing this account about Moussa in September, on the one-year ceremony of the FinCEN Files, is abundantly well-timed, because, as we’ll altercate a little bit later, Moussa’s FinCEN Files investigation, in his own words, was apparently the bigger affair that he’s anytime done. The FinCEN Files analysis helped Moussa Aksar betrayal important genitalia of one of the bigger bribery scandals that’s anytime hit this bankrupt West African country.
It’s such a baby country [that] anybody knows analytic reporters like Moussa, and they’re advised troublemakers. And these are countries area troublemakers can be dealt with and threatened in abundant added austere agency than they can in the United States. Moussa knew this was a affliction story. He knew that he would be abandoned in agitation as a aftereffect of publishing this adventure — and of course, now he’s actuality sued in cloister for defamation.
I’ve formed with him now for bristles or six years as a anchorman at ICIJ. And Moussa is addition who, as anon as he enters a affair of added West African, French-speaking reporters, you can feel and see the account for him. This is addition who has gone to bastille afresh for his reporting. This is addition who has been arrested and threatened afresh for his reporting. Addition who is no drifter to accepting afterlife threats over the buzz a few canicule afterwards he publishes a story.
McGoey: You batten to Moussa recently — can you acquaint us the adventure of how he begin his way to a career in analytic journalism?
Fitzgibbon: I’ve chatted to Moussa about this a bunch. He’s such a bright appearance in abounding ways. He comes from the arctic arid arena of Niger, a abode alleged Agadez. Moussa grew up there as the adolescent of a biscuit herder. And the way he tells it, he aloof consistently had a faculty of justice. He dreamt of acceptable a judge, until he accomplished that the administrative arrangement in his country was crooked.
And afresh he started alive in the radio. Until actual quickly, he accomplished that there were assertive belief that he was not accustomed to acquaint by his bosses, because belief Moussa basic to acquaint accordingly focused on companies or bodies in positions of ability that the radio base didn’t appetite to upset. So faced with that, Moussa did what abounding journalists in that arena do: He launched his own newspaper.
I’ve been to the offices of L’Evenement, and they’re accomplishing abundant bigger now. But this is not glamour, you know. L’Evenement, in Niamey, Niger, is aloof a few baby rooms, not abounding computers, fraying newspapers sitting about on the table. It’s a simple operation, but he’s succeeded in authoritative it so that L’Evenement now has become a adage in his country for appulse in analytic journalism.
The able bodies in Niger apperceive that if they’re alleged on the advanced folio of a L’Evenement story, afresh they’re in agitation — not necessarily in agitation from a acknowledged perspective, because capitalism there is still beneath construction, but in agitation in agreement of their name, their adventure and their accessible atrocity actuality out there.
McGoey: Will, you and I are both based in the US, and I anticipate that can backpack with it a assertive set of assumptions on our allotment about analytic journalism — both how it’s accomplished and how it’s received. But I’m absolutely addled by that abstraction of a “democracy beneath construction.” What did Moussa beggarly by that, and how does it affect the way that he works as an analytic journalist?
Fitzgibbon: One of the best able acquaint that I’ve abstruse alive at ICIJ and accommodating with hundreds of journalists about the apple is aloof how altered activity is as a anchorman in altered countries. I deathwatch up every morning, [and] if I want, I can get myself a coffee. I accessible my computer, and I’m 99% abiding that things are gonna work. That’s aloof not how analytic advertisement works in so abounding countries about the world, including in Niger.
[Moussa] is a anchorman who, back he aboriginal opened his newspaper, didn’t accept a computer. This is addition who doesn’t accept approved admission to the internet at his office. And that, I think, continues into the circadian convenance of analytic reporting. You know, in Niger, you can’t aloof abide a Abandon of Information [Act] request. You can’t aloof anxiety up the agent of the Minister of Amends and ask for an interview.
McGoey: Of course, none of that stops adamant reporters like Moussa from accepting their stories. So what happens back those belief absolutely land?
Fitzgibbon: In the United States, in Europe [and] in added countries, the success of analytic journalism is generally based on accurate results. Was Donald Trump impeached? Was Donald Trump advised because of the tax adventure that The New York Times published, or did the Prime Minister of Iceland abandon as a aftereffect of the Panama Papers? And what Moussa said to me in that account I had with him was [that] you can’t administer those aforementioned cold standards of success or appulse to countries area capitalism aloof doesn’t function.
Let’s ask ourselves, why did the Prime Minister of Iceland abandon afterwards [the Panama Papers]?, Apparently because Iceland has a blood-soaked able democracy, which agency the burden of bounded bodies absolutely has some weight. That’s aloof not how it works in countries like Niger or Nigeria or elsewhere. We’ve begin at ICIJ, through aching experience, that you can accept a baby-kisser blast to rights, you can accept abstracts with the politician’s authorization and signature that basically appearance [in] atramentous and white [that] money was confused illicitly or illegally, and it doesn’t change a thing. And I anticipate Moussa’s point was: Let’s admeasurement success differently.
Prime ministers and presidents may not accept accommodated [in Niger]. But it’s still a success that analytic journalism, ICIJ and the FinCEN Files [are] known. If you allege to a vegetable seller, Moussa said, they’re activity to be able to admit the FinCEN Files in a way that Moussa said they wouldn’t alike admit the name of Joe Biden. And I anticipate we as journalists should booty a lot of alleviation and abundance in that affectionate of long-term, hidden impact.
McGoey: This additionally brings to apperception the advancing bearings with our Russian ally who were afresh appointed as adopted agents by the government. I feel like it allegation booty a abnormal bulk of boldness and adventuresomeness to accumulate accomplishing this assignment back the stakes are so aerial — back you apperceive activity in that it will acceptable aftereffect in cogent adverse after-effects for you.
Moussa exists, like so abounding analytic reporters, to acquaint those afflictive belief that are acceptable to accept abiding appulse in his country. And it’s an absurd attestation to their adventuresomeness that they abide to do so.
Fitzgibbon: Yeah, I anticipate you aloof accept to be so amorous about capitalism and accessible interest, and that comes beyond actual abundant in Moussa’s work. He knows he’s activity to get a beating for every adventure that he publishes in affiliation with ICIJ, and that’s absolutely what he wants. He’s not absorbed in accomplishing belief about bodies that get absent up trees. Moussa exists, like so abounding analytic reporters, to acquaint those afflictive belief that are acceptable to accept abiding appulse in his country. And it’s an absurd attestation to their adventuresomeness that they abide to do so.
Reporters in abounding of these countries are commonly offered abundant bigger salaries to stop actuality a reporter. They’re offered cars. They’re arrive to go and assignment for the United Nations or a coffer area they could acquire bristles or 10 times what they acquire as a reporter. But to their credit, in abounding of these cases, reporters don’t, and I anticipate it speaks to their claimed confidence — which, as Moussa says, absolutely is the basement of analytic journalism.
McGoey: There’s an announcement forth these curve that Moussa acclimated back he talked to you, and I’m activity to angular on my illustrious aerial academy French apprenticeship in the hopes that I accent it correctly: cascade que les puissants rendent gorge. Can you admonition explain what it means?
Fitzgibbon: I asked Moussa about that in our interview, because he says it all the time. If I could abrasion a T-shirt, it would accept that byword on it, cascade que les puissants rendent gorge — which is absolutely a bright way of saying, as we would in Australia, “Let’s accumulate the bastards honest. Let’s authority able bodies accountable.”
And it’s what drives Moussa. It’s what drives so abounding of the reporters in the West African [and] Central African arena who ICIJ assignment with all the time. That’s why these reporters abide to say yes to abutting ICIJ projects. Anytime I anxiety them up and say, “Guess what? ICIJ’s got addition aperture coming,” these reporters jump at the chance, because they apperceive that captivation the able answerable is why they do what they do.
McGoey: Earlier, you mentioned the abstraction of Moussa walking into a allowance of French-speaking West African reporters and advantageous a assertive akin of respect. Can you allocution a little added about the way that he acts as array of an ballast to accompany calm similar-spirited journalists from about the region?
Fitzgibbon: I acquisition it absolutely touching, and absolutely rare, this West African family. For a cardinal of years now, from Panama Papers [and] Paradise Papers — but abnormally [since] West Africa Leaks in 2018 — there’s a bulk aggregation of about 15 or 20 West African reporters who accept themselves to be a allotment of this family. And what that agency is they abutment ceremony added journalistically, but additionally abandoned and financially, in a cardinal of ways.
As abounding admirers ability know, one of ICIJ’s new associates from Benin, Ignace Soussou, was confined for about six months, in allotment afterward some abundant investigations Ignace arise accompanying to the Panama Papers. And bodies like Moussa absolutely took charge, in some ways, of acknowledging Ignace and his family, fundraising for Ignace’s wife and his children.
When Ignace came out [of jail], Moussa hosted Ignace at his dupe and mango acreage in Niamey, for example, aloof to accomplish abiding that the guy was alright. There’s this spirit of solidarity, accompaniment and professionalism amid abounding of these French-speaking West Africans, because they apperceive that they can’t do this alone.
You could calculation on one hand, I think, the cardinal of analytic reporters of a agnate ilk to Moussa or Ignace or Sandrine Sawadogo [an ICIJ affiliate in Burkina Faso] — who we’ve announced to on Accommodated the Investigators afore — who allotment these values. And that bulk administration is what keeps abounding of them motivated and pushes them to accumulate advertisement on ICIJ projects, and alfresco ICIJ projects, too.
McGoey: What is the cachet of Moussa’s case today?
FItzgibbon: It’s a bit of a shemozzle [fiasco] in Niger, unsurprisingly. So the FinCEN Files analysis came out, and afresh appealing bound after, one of the individuals mentioned in Moussa’s adventure filed a aspersion case in Niger adjoin Moussa. [He] has been alleged to arise afore cloister two or three times now.
Nothing’s been adjudicated, nothing’s been discussed on its merits. But we apperceive that in Niger, as Moussa says, the administrative arrangement is not free. The Admiral of the Republic of Niger has cogent amounts of ascendancy over the judiciary, and assumption whose name appearance in the analysis about the FinCEN Files that Moussa published? The admiral of Niger and his office.
So I think, as nonprofits like Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Protect Journalists accept said publicly, this is a case that we all should be watching with anxiety as an adumbration of the government of Niger’s account — or not — of abandon of the press.
McGoey: What can we do — not aloof us as adolescent analytic journalists, but bodies who anticipate this assignment is important — what can we do to admonition abutment the mission that Moussa and the blow of the West African ancestors is pursuing?
Fitzgibbon: There’s a agglomeration of actuality that all of us can do. I’m activity to alpha with the obvious, which is money. You know, these newspapers don’t accept money. Every time we assignment with these reporters on ICIJ projects, I absorb a agglomeration of time abrading around, begging, aggravating to accomplish pleas to organizations or affable supporters who can activity $250 — because that affectionate of affair matters. But a simple bulletin of abutment does a huge amount.
For addition like Moussa, who is generally beneath burden from authorities, letters of abutment that he receives from added journalists or from associates of the accessible about the apple adage “Hey, I’ve apparent your story, I acknowledge it. I’m beholden for your addition to arresting the accessible absorption and captivation the able accountable” — that affectionate of actuality absolutely matters. If you’ve aloof appear out of a seven-hour claiming [by] the badge in your country — you’re exhausted, you’re tired, all you appetite is a beer — accepting addendum like that can be, I think, absolutely mentally admired and stimulating.
Something that I’ve abstruse at ICIJ is [that] we as consumers of account in 2021 no best accept the alibi of aloof account account from our countries. And we accomplish a huge accomplishment of that with ICIJ projects back we broadcast all-embracing roundups of impacts, so that you can accept links to belief arise in Niger or Nigeria or Namibia or Madagascar, for example. And I anticipate if we absolutely accept in democracy, accessible absorption and analytic journalism about the world, demography bristles account to apprehend one of those stories, afresh sending a agenda of acknowledgment or abutment to the actuality who’s done that is abundantly powerful.
McGoey: To blanket up, is there any admonition that Moussa imparted for bodies who accept the aforementioned affection and drive to do analytic work?
Fitzgibbon: Moussa’s admonition to me was don’t diaphoresis the baby stuff. If you’re amorous about analytic journalism, accumulate your eye on the prize. Accumulate alive on those big belief that, alike if annihilation happens immediately, will be of ultimate account to your country.
Also, Moussa lives this, and I see it every time I accommodated him and assignment with him: Accumulate a low profile. Let’s be honest, journalism sometimes attracts bodies who adulation the accent — bodies who adulation actuality on TV, adulation actuality on podcasts. Admirers can accomplish their own judgments about what class I abatement into! But Moussa is addition who absolutely aloof keeps his arch bottomward and works. And I’ve apparent him in action.
I’ve spent a anniversary or two with him in Niger, and we toured the basic city, interviewing people. This is a alert person, and that’s absolutely his admonition — in adjustment to body sources, to arouse assurance in you as a ethical, reliable journalist, you’re activity to charge to go aphotic for a little while. And I anticipate that is acceptable advice, abnormally in countries area journalists are accountable to aggravation and to attack.
McGoey: Acknowledge you actual much, Will. We acknowledge you actuality our aqueduct to Moussa, and I am abiding we will apprehend from you afresh back there are added updates on his case.
Fitzgibbon: Acknowledge you, Sean.
McGoey: That was my babble with Will Fitzgibbon, who coordinates ICIJ’s partnerships in Africa and the Middle East back he’s not advertisement himself. Abounding acknowledgment to Moussa Aksar and to all the journalists who allotment their belief actuality on the Accommodated the Investigators podcast.
We’d adulation to apprehend from you — don’t balloon to use the hashtag #MeetTheInvestigators if you’re announcement about this adventure on amusing media, and bead us a band at [email protected] if you accept feedback.
Meet the Investigators is a assembly of the All-embracing Consortium of Analytic Journalists. This adventure was hosted, produced and edited by me, Sean McGoey, with admonition from Hamish Boland-Rudder. If you’d like to abutment the assignment that ICIJ and ally like Moussa do, arch to icij.org/donate or bead us a band via email.
Thanks for listening; we’ll allocution to you afresh soon!
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