The McClatchy Washington Bureau, The Miami Herald and The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists won a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for a penetrating investigation into an international tax haven that hid billions for dictators, politicians and tax cheats.
Miami Herald editorial cartoonist Jim Morin, whose social and political commentary has charmed and exasperated followers for over 40 years, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons.
The “Panama Papers” project involved an unprecedented collaboration of 100 media outlets. Journalists in 80 countries worked together to investigate 11.5 million files leaked from inside Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-headquartered law firm that specialized in building offshore companies.
“When you start your career you hope for one thing,” Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy’s chief economics reporter, said during a celebration in the bureau as editors passed out champagne. “You hope you have that one story that makes a difference. Laws have changed. Governments have fallen. The owners of the company are in jail.”
Hall, holding back tears, said the project had started off as a small idea that the bureau might help the ICIJ with a couple of stories about Argentina, but Hall and the editors recognized something much larger.
The McClatchy Washington Bureau and the Miami Herald, a McClatchy newspaper, won the Pulitzer award for explanatory reporting along with other media outlets, including Fusion and Germany-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, as part of the ICIJ team that connected shell companies to Syria’s civil war, the pillaging of Africa’s natural resources and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin who hid as much as $2 billion in assets.
Hall, national correspondent Tim Johnson and Bureau Chief Cheryl Carpenter led the team in Washington, which also included former McClatchy reporter Marisa Taylor and former Bureau Chief James Asher. The Miami Herald team was led by reporters Nicholas Nehamas and Jim Wyss and editor Casey Frank.
“The great thing about journalism every day – not just days like this – but every day is that you’re part of something bigger than just you,” Carpenter said during the emotional celebration. “You’re part of something that resonates and tells a story and creates history. . . . We were part of a global community that was nothing less than miraculous.”
McClatchy Video Lab senior motion graphics producer Sohail Al-Jamea and video journalist Ali Rizvi produced a motion graphic video illustrating the complex world of offshore banks and corporations.
“We couldn’t be more proud,” said Craig Forman, McClatchy president and CEO. “At the Miami Herald, in our Washington bureau and elsewhere among the 30 newsrooms that make McClatchy, we have dedicated ourselves to the kind of enterprise and ingenuity reflected in these projects, and we are grateful to the Pulitzer Board for honoring us with not one but two prizes.”
McClatchy has won more than 50 Pulitzers in its 160-year history. This is the Miami Herald’s 22nd Pulitzer, including a previous award for Morin.
“We are honored to be a part of this unprecedented collaboration and help to peel back the layers of these secret havens,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of the Miami Herald. “This represents just a sample of the incredible work that was done.”
Morin also won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1996. He was a finalist for the award in 1977 and 1990.
Fueled by social and political upheavals during the early 1970s, Morin began publishing political cartoons for The Daily Orange at Syracuse University where he was a student. He joined the Miami Herald in 1978 and his work is syndicated internationally by MorinToons Syndicate.
“There will always be politicians who behave badly, boneheaded legislative proposals, victories to celebrate, challenges to confront and tragedy – natural and man-made,” said Nancy Ancrum, Miami Herald’s editorial page editor. “He responds to them all with fearlessness when necessary, and compassion when called for.”
Since the Panama Papers broke early last April, the ICIJ has published more than 4,700 news stories based on the leaks that include 40 years of records, including emails, financial spreadsheets, passport information and corporate records.
Connections of world leaders to the shell game led to protests on every continent except Antarctica. Iceland’s prime minister resigned, as did Spain’s minister for industry, energy and tourism and Armenia’s major general for justice.
In the wake of the reports, at least 79 nations have announced inquiries or investigations, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The United States updated rules to require the financial industry to identify the real owners of companies.
An estimated $135 billion in value has been lost by nearly 400 publicly traded companies linked to the Panama Papers.
McClatchy’s stories revealed how an advocacy group that championed liberty and low taxes recruited U.S. customers for Mossack Fonseca, the state of Wyoming became a popular tax haven like the Cayman Islands and a Filipina “housewife” became tangled in an arms-running scandal – perhaps unknowingly – involving North Korea and Iran.
The Miami Herald uncovered how an Italian fugitive with ties to the Mafia used Miami firms to set up offshore companies to help him mastermind a $48 million tax fraud and a Venezuelan businessman convicted of acting as an illegal foreign agent in the United States was allowed to acquire shell companies.
Tim Grieve, McClatchy vice president of news, said the project was a real testament to the “drive and the passion” McClatchy journalists bring to their work every day.
“There were so many different stories,” Grieve said, addressing the winners. “So many threads to pull, but by God you pulled all of them. And you pulled a lot of things that came undone in the process.”
He added: “This is investigative journalism on a grand scale that had a grand impact.”