Bosnian investigative journalist Miranda Patrucić provides helpful ways that journalists can track and report on money looted by government officials.

Regional editor of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Miranda Patrucić, offers ways of tracking money looted by government officials and taken outside of their countries of origin. She revealed her top tips during a panel discussion titled ‘Tracking Looted Wealth’ at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference.

  • Public records

“What we’ve discovered about people who steal money and loot from their countries is that they want to go abroad and show off. They want to be treated like celebrities and be in the close circles of royalty and top businessmen,” she said.

In order to “show off”, they will need to spend money abroad and the expenditures will accumulate a paper trail. Journalists can use public records like business records, property tax records, and car registrations to discover lavish spending.

  • Financial statements from banks outside of the country

It can be difficult to find business records of looted money that is kept inside the country; a good way to work around this is looking into banks abroad. “Strangely enough, banks actually do have financial statements out in the open, so we were able to look at the inside deals and how they were funding their own businesses,” said Patrucić.

  • Properties

Properties can be found through architectural firms who posted plans, pictures and costs online. Properties can also be found through social media accounts like Instagram, where the officials or their families post pictures of their homes. The geolocations can be tracked from the pictures.

“If we are talking about an official who has millions to spend, they’re not really going to spend them inside the county. They’re going to spend them on mansions in London, France or Miami,” she said.

  • Yachts

Yachts can also be tracked from social media when pictures appear in the posts of officials. Once identified, tools like Marine Traffic can be used to provide real-time information on the movements and current locations of ships in harbours and ports.

“We can follow the location of the yachts so we can know that today it’s in France, tomorrow it’s going to be Italy and in three days it will be somewhere else,” she said.

The crew members on the yachts can also be followed on social media. This can provide “juicy” information about the lifestyles of the officials.

  • Lifestyle

Images of the officials and their families using or wearing expensive items can often be found on the internet. The images can be cropped and item costs can be found using reverse image searching.

“We were looking into the former prime minster of Montenegro and he had a salary which was €1 000 and then suddenly he had a € 100 000 watch,” said Patrucić.

Despite the fact that officials will leave their countries to “show off” with looted money, journalists have found alternatives ways to catch them and expose the truth.