Can evidence unearthed by investigative journalists in Africa lead to prosecutions?

By Farai Shawn Matiashe

Johannesburg– Multinational companies are the biggest perpetrators of corruption in Africa yet their crimes are sophisticated, posing a challenge for both journalists and prosecutors to come up with overwhelming evidence which can stand in courts.

“Corporate crime is complicated. The chain of evidence has to be thorough, otherwise it can be thrown out of courts,” said Tabitha Paine, a lawyer with Open Secrets, a civil society organisation that holds companies and individuals to account for economic crime with human rights violations through investigations and using the law.

Paine was speaking to delegates during an online session titled How do we turn our exposés into prosecutions? Taking accountability to the next step at the African Investigative Journalism Conference 2021.

She said there was a need to prosecute these large companies as they are the biggest perpetrators of crimes.

“Defence from them is always that the individuals who committed the crimes [in question] have since left the company,” she explained.

In South Africa, 19 journalists from News24, the Daily Maverick’s Scorpio and amaBhungane collaborated on a series of stories dubbed the #GuptaLeaks,  published in 2017, which exposed the State capture under the leadership of the then President Jacob Zuma.

The three Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, had a vast empire of businesses ranging from mining, media, ICT and arms.

Through their Optimum Coal Mine, which they bought in December 2015, the Gupta family worked with multinational companies such as KPMG, McKinsey and SAP to drain billions of dollars from South Africa.

After the scandal was exposed the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks dropped some charges against the family citing weak charges.

Paine said it is not always the case that the evidence provided by investigative journalists can stand in court.

“What is evidence for investigative journalists might not be enough for prosecutors. Not every investigation [by investigative journalists] might lead to a prosecution,” she said.

Speaking at the same event, Hermione Cronje, an investigating director at the Investigating Directorate of NPA, said they rely on investigative journalists during prosecution but would need additional evidence to meet the requirements of the courts.


“The biggest challenge with the type of crimes we deal with is they often happen between willing participants, third party colluding with a government official. None of them have any interest in this coming to light. I think where we rely on journalists more than anywhere else is their ability to expose and shine a light in the dark room of these negotiations,” she said.


“We have to convince the courts that there is a basis of corruption.”


Cronje, who was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to her position in 2019, said there is a standard proof which prosecution requires as well as providing authenticity of the evidence such as bank records.

She said holding corporates to account is their huge task and they were not reluctant to do that.


Cronje said since companies always change leadership, they have to hold corrupt officials to account in their individual capacity.


She, however, said the budget has always proved to be a challenge when prosecuting big firms since multinational companies have much bigger budgets compared to what they normally work with.


Khadija Sharife, an award-winning investigative journalist with Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative centers, media and journalists said as investigative journalists they will have to come up with a paper trail that leads to holding corrupt officials to account.


“The purpose is to investigate in a way of putting evidence on record. We try to publish the story as dockets, to provide as much evidence as possible,” she said.


In other countries, such as Zimbabwe, corrupt politicians control the judiciary through bribes and intimidations.


This has led to the dropping of corruption cases such as that of former Health Minister Obadiah Moyo who illegally awarded a $60 million for medical equipment walking free. Moyo’s case came to light after it was leaked to the media.

Paine said it is a mammoth task for investigative journalists in countries such as Zimbabwe where the judiciary is not independent.


“What I can say to journalists and advocates is get people angry, get people to believe that anger can turn into something fruitful and produce accountability eventually,” she said.

About the Author
Farai Shawn Matiashe is an award-winning journalist based in Mutare, Zimbabwe. His articles are published on various international media outlets including the Africa Report, Aljazeera, Vice World News, Quartz Africa and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Featured image: Open Secrets’ Tabitha Paine speaking during the AIJC2021 session on turning investigative exposes into prosecution.