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Musab Shawabkeh, the skinny young journalist who has been involved in investigative journalism since his second year at college came running to my office this week. He had made a discovery about Mawared, the flag ship company owned by the Jordanian armed forces. As part of a report he was researching on financial integrity of top Jordanian officials he sought information about ownership of companies abroad. Working with the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo, Shawabkeh had discovered that the Jordanian army's Mawared has registered a company in the European tax-haven of Luxembourg and that this company had branched in the UK, the Virgin Islands, Dubai and Morocco.
Shawabkeh is an investigative journalist in Radio al Balad a community radio based in Amman, Jordan who was trained with ARIJ, Arab Reporters for Investigative journalism. Even before publishing a word about it, the integrity of politicians report has been attracting attention and worry. When the head of the Jordanian parliament's legal affairs committee failed to show up for an interview Musab filmed a stand up in front of the empty desk and made it clear to staffers that this is how his response will appear on youtube. Within minutes of returning to the office, the MP called Musab apologized for not showing up and agreed to give the on record interview.
This newly found courage didn't come easy.
Investigative journalism is relatively new in the Arab world, I had the privilege with help from a Danish media group International Media Support to plant the seeds for this important tool of watchdog journalism. The existence of access to information laws in countries like Jordan and more recently Yemen and Tunis do little to provide journalists with the information they need, forcing journalists to carry out their investigations using unorthodox methods.
When Musab investigated the growing abuse of Jordan's medical tourism business he had to dress up as a taxi driver and visit local clinics and hospitals with a hidden camera offering patients and finding out how much he could get in commissions (which are totally illegal by Jordan's Medical union). When his investigation was published he was invited to a local tv station and was attacked fiercely by the head of the medical board and the head of the consumer protection agency who is a doctor for ruining the country's medical business by his investigation.
Musab's colleague Hanan Khandkji had a year earlier shocked Jordanians with a hard hitting investigation into the abuses that take place in centers housing disabled children. The investigation which was broadcast on BBC television in Arabic angered King Abdullah who ordered the immediate closure of the abusive centers and a full government investigation. Other investigations carried out by the Radio al Balad investigative unit includes uncovering cheating in high school matriculation exams, exposing the purchase of masters and PHd thesis, revealing how international donor money is wasted and how Jordanian companies use powder milk and unauthorized substances in making their local dairy products.
Annual regional conferences organized by ARIJ helped provide journalists with the tools needed to carry out the investigations and the connections to do cross border reporting. Last year's conference held in the Egyptian capital Cairo, allowed journalists like Musab to meet Miranda Miranda Patrucić, from Bosnia who was able to help in tracking down some of the wealthy Jordanians who use international tax havens to stash away undeclared income. The work of the Bosnia-based center is helping close the circle on many tax evaders who set up accounts abroad. A handful of regional investigative organizations are spanning the world today and are becoming a major tool in helping uncover attempts by corrupt politicians attempting to evade local scrutiny by buying property abroad or depositing their money in what they think are safe havens.
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