“There are some country destinations, some business registers, where we can’t find information on who the shareholders of the company are,” said Dragana Pećo, investigative reporter for KRIK and OCCRP.
Although establishing an offshore company is legal, people can use it for illegal activities. Pećo illustrates this with what some corrupt Balkan politicians do. “They steal the money from the budget, buy property and want to hide it,” she explained.
Tracking offshore companies has become a daily activity for her. “It’s not that I find some new offshore company every day that I should investigate, but it’s every day … [either] as a part of some cross-border project I’m working on with some colleagues, or something related to local stories,” she said.
The most important tools for tracking offshore companies are business registries and databases. Some are free, while some can be pricey. The first task, however, is to find information and documents about the company in an official business registry. Usually, these kinds of information and documents cannot be found in official company registries, since it is an offshore jurisdiction – secrecy, remember? The agent who helped found an offshore company will usually ignore a journalist’s emails.
But some information can be found in other places. These companies usually have subsidiaries, she said. “What I do is, I search for the documents that they should submit to local business registries,” Peco explained.
Information can be found in court records and different databases worldwide, such as Orbis, LexisNexis, Offshore Alert, Sayari and Arachnys. Journalists can also use opencorporates, ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks database, OCCRP’s tool for records search as well as ask for assistance from the investigators at an online platform run by OCCRP, Investigative Dashboard.