Tracing the Story

The unlikely partnership that unlocked Congo’s crude

Published by OCCRP on September 7, 2018

View original story

Philippe Engels on corruption and the strength of cooperation between experienced, determined and enthusiastic journalists. This story was co-authored by Khadija Sharife from the OCCRP.

Philippe Engels

“Create spaces and times for exchanges, even when working at a distance.”


What were the major findings of your story?

In order to import oil into Africa, the trader Gunvor relied on a firm – Semlex – already established on this continent and which helped him conduct corruption at a high level.

What impact did your story have?

The OCCRP/Médor’s investigations into the actions of Semlex, which was also active in the identity papers sector, put it under great pressure in Africa, where its contracts in some companies (e.g. in the Congo) were not renewed.

Was your story based on another previously published report?

Other articles about R Case by Reuters/OCCRP/Médor.

Did you receive any funding to do this story?

Yes.

What were the sources of funding you received to do this story?

Fonds pour le journalisme.

How did the story start and how did your team decide on the first steps to take in working on this story?

Secret indications about corruption pacts and previous articles about Semlex.

How long did it take to report, write and edit this story?

More than six months.

What challenges did your team face while working with sources?

Working over distances (Khadija Sharife in South Africa & myself in Belgium).

What resources and tools did your team find useful?

Secret of sources, sorry. Too delicate to describe.

What other challenges or barriers did your team face while working on the story or series, and how did you overcome these challenges?

Creating trust between authors, writing in two different languages, four hands working on the same text, checking and finalizing.

What advice would you give journalists working on similar investigations?

Be patient, cross-check rigorously, protect sources at all times. Create spaces and times for exchanges, even when working at a distance. Positive cooperation at all times.

Did working on this story change your perspective as a journalist?

Yes; about the strength of cooperation between experienced, determined, and enthusiastic journalists