Hiwar speaker discusses Pandora Papers

January 25, 2022
Dean Starkman, investigative reporter and senior editor at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), examined the role that investigative reporting plays in the digital age and its importance to the survival of democracy at Northwestern Qatar’s Hiwar Speaker series.
In a conversation moderated by Professor Eddy Borges-Rey, Starkman drew from his experience with ICIJ’s Pandora Papers project to examine how, despite funding challenges, investigative reporters are collaborating to uncover corruption of government leaders and billionaires around the world.
The Pandora Papers, which Starkman edited, are leaked documents that exposed secret offshore accounts of  world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers, and heads of state as well as more than 100 billionaires, celebrities, and business leaders.
Starkman explained how global financial systems are enabling private individuals globally to evade taxes and avoid accountability by setting up multinational corporations in tax havens in the Caribbean and offshore jurisdictions. With leaks linking senior government officials and public figures from around the world to these accounts, he said, “the findings expose the ubiquity of the [global financial] system and why it is impossible now to talk about offshore as though it is something remote, or far away.”
Pointing to the failures of the global financial system and its impact on democracy, Starkman said the failure in the financial system also led to a decline in trust in democratic institutions because the system is seen as failing to protect the public interest. “A lot of people around the world, particularly in democracies, feel like the system is rigged against them,” noted Starkman, “and the trouble in the case of offshore is that the system is actually rigged against them. This is not a system for ordinary people.”
Another way the triumph of private interest is causing democracy to retreat, Starkman said, is through increasing inequality and mistrust in democratic governments’ ability to serve their citizenry. “The offshore system drains legitimate governments from the resources needed to fund public projects,” noted Starkman, “people then don’t get the services they need — the healthcare, housing, job training, unemployment benefits — and it basically shows that democratic governments don’t serve the citizens that brought them there.”
At a time when democratic institutions are under mounting threats, Starkman stressed the work of journalists and investigative reporters is essential to rebuilding trust in democracy and empowering people to become active citizenry. Cooperation between journalists, he added, is a tool to maximize the impact of their work and to share resources and expertise. “[Cooperation] works, it’s very impactful, and can make a difference around the world,” said Starkman.
An investigative reporter for more than two decades, Starkman covered white-collar crime and national real estate for The Wall Street Journal and reported on the intersection of finance and society from New York as Wall Street correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He has won several awards for his writing on finance, media, and the business of news in an age of digital disruption, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 as chief of The Providence Journal investigative unit.