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The Panama Papers Reading List

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Panama Papers Wins Pulitzer Prize

The honor is a testament to the enterprise and teamwork of our staff and our partners here in the U.S. and around the world, ICIJ's director says.

Awards and recognition

The Panama Papers project, led by ICIJ and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung working in collaboration with more than 100 media outlets, has been honored with awards and finalist mentions by more than a dozen major international prizes, including:

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Where Are They Now? A Year Later, Mixed Fortunes For Panama Papers Line-Up

One year after the Panama Papers first became an international catchphrase, here’s a globe-hopping update on the people and institutions caught up in the scandal.

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VIDEO: Twelve Months of Investigations, Impact and Outrage

A year ago the Panama Papers dominated newspaper headlines and brought now-iconic images to TV screens around the world. Since then, investigations have continued and outrage has grown.

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Panama Prosecutor Claims 'Solid Case' Against Mossack Fonseca

The law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers affair, sold shell companies and held bank accounts that were used to help conceal bribes paid across South America, a Panamanian prosecutor alleged at a press conference.

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Founders of Panama Papers Law Firm Arrested on Money Laundering Charges

Police in Panama arrested the founders of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers scandal, on money laundering charges Thursday after authorities raided the firm’s headquarters as part of investigations into Brazil’s largest-ever bribery scandal.

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Tax Agencies Draw Up ‘Target List’ of Offshore Enablers

Tax agencies from 30 countries convened in Paris this week to take part in the largest ever simultaneous exchange of tax information and to share results and details on thousands of investigations sparked by the Panama Papers.

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Panama’s Revolving Door Shows Global Challenge of Offshore Reform

In a country where top-drawer lawyers move freely between high government posts and law firms selling secrecy-cloaked shell companies, bringing lasting change to the offshore industry is a challenge.

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Journalists Hang Tough in Face of Backlash Against Panama Papers Reporting

Reporters have faced consequences both in nations where media crackdowns are common and also in nations with reputations for high levels of press freedom.

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Panama Papers Have Had Historic Global Effects — and the Impacts Keep Coming

The investigation has produced an almost daily drumbeat of regulatory moves, follow-up stories and calls by politicians and activists for more action to combat offshore financial secrecy.

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BVI Hits Mossack Fonseca With Largest Fine Ever After Panama Papers Investigation

The $440,000 penalty followed a six-month investigation which included on-site compliance inspections and the appointment of an officer to monitor Mossack Fonseca's operations.

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Experts Who Quit Panama's Transparency Commission Produce Their Own Report

Report's authors say that the U.S. and EU have the power to force other nations to embrace transparency reforms by threatening to cut off access to their financial systems.

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Pakistan's PM Responds to Supreme Court Hearing on Panama Papers

Nawaz Sharif defended himself before the nation’s highest court, as opposition supporters celebrated in Islamabad.

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Panama Hires PR Firm Amid Ongoing Panama Papers Fallout

A PR firm is being paid $50,000 a month to help the Panama government, while arrests, protests and more continue around the world.

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Hedge Fund Sues Mossack Fonseca For Alleged Obstruction of Justice in Nevada

Confidential emails revealed in the Panama Papers have opened a new front in a bitter court battle in Nevada involving a hedge fund led by an American billionaire, new court filings show.

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Experts Quit Panama's Transparency Committee Over Lack of Transparency

The committee was established in the wake of the Panama Papers to probe Panama's financial services industry, but now two out of three international members have resigned.

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Continent of Secrets: Uncovering Africa's Offshore Empires

Africa receives $50 billion of foreign aid money annually, but then loses roughly the same amount through illicit outflows. Can you uncover Africa's offshore empires? Play now!

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Secret Offshore Deals Deprive Africa of Billions in Natural Resource Dollars

The Panama Papers show how politicians and mining, oil and gas interests benefit from secrecy and dubious multimillion dollar transfers.

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Secret Documents Expose Nigerian Oil Mogul’s Offshore Hideaways

A dealmaker’s backstage maneuverings are revealed in the Panama Papers as he hung with celebrities while criminal investigators closed in.

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Diamond Mine with Offshore Ties Leaves Trail of Complaints

The Panama Papers reveal a network of shell companies linked to a mining operation that has been accused of environmental harms and unpaid taxes.

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Out of Africa, Into Tax Havens

As visitors come to see what’s in Africa, some safari operators’ profits head offshore.

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Reporters Warned, Inquiries Opened as African Nations Respond to Panama Papers

Mossack Fonseca targeted clients in Africa for business, but now some of those clients have become targets themselves as authorities launch investigations into the Panama Papers revelations.

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Panama Papers Credited As New EU Anti Money-Laundering And Tax Abuse Rules Proposed

The European Commission has announced it will tighten the European Union’s anti-money laundering rules and increase transparency requirements for companies and trusts.

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Venezuela and Panama To Launch Joint Panama Papers Investigation

The joint investigation will be the "first of its kind," and Venezuela's attorney general has hinted at a long list of suspects.

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European Inquiry to Call UK Chancellor, Mossack Fonseca to Testify

A special 65-member Panama Papers committee of inquiry has been created by the European parliament to investigate potential wrongdoing exposed by ICIJ's investigation.

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Mossack Fonseca's US Operations Under Pressure, Island Offices Closed

Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca’s local affiliate in Nevada has resigned from more than 1,000 companies and paid a penalty to the state amid investigations on multiple fronts.

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US States Under Pressure As World Pushes For Financial Transparency

Nevada, Wyoming and Delaware are facing growing pressure over their lack of corporate transparency, as the United States and the international community continue to respond to fallout from the Panama Papers.

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The Malefactors of Mossack Fonseca

Meet The Dutchman, the Queen of the South, the Boss of Bosses and other convicted felons and alleged wrongdoers who have benefited from services provided by the law firm.

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Panama Papers Include Dozens of Americans Tied to Fraud and Financial Misconduct

Mossack Fonseca's files include offshore companies linked to at least 36 Americans accused of serious financial wrongdoing, including fraud and racketeering.

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Beyond Panama: Unlocking the world’s secrecy jurisdictions

The 21 jurisdictions covered by the Panama Papers data vary from the rolling hills of Wyoming to tropical getaways like the British Virgin Islands. But all have at least one thing in common - secrecy is the rule.

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Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come

The anonymous whistleblower behind the Panama Papers has conditionally offered to make the documents available to government authorities.

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US Officials React to Panama Papers Disclosures With Get-Tough Proposals

The Obama administration has proposed a national registry documenting the real owners of shell companies and other measures aimed at fighting offshore chicanery.

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Iceland’s First Lady Linked to Offshore Investments

Records in the Panama Papers and the Swiss Leaks leaked files tie the wife of Iceland President Ólafur Grímsson to offshore companies and accounts.

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Coming Soon: ICIJ to Release Panama Papers Offshore Companies Data

The database, to be released on May 9, will likely be the largest ever release of secret offshore companies and the people behind them.

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Cartel-Linked Suspects Arrested After Panama Papers Revelations

Uruguayan prosecutors are seeking to bring to trial at least five individuals detained on suspicion of laundering money for a powerful Mexican drug cartel.

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US Prosecutor Opens Investigation Into 'Panama Papers Matters'

ICIJ welcomes the interest from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office, but has made it clear it won't be turning over its data or taking part in any investigation.

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Banks Ordered to Provide Info on Panama Dealings to NY Regulator

More than a dozen banks identified in the Panama Papers investigation have been asked to hand over details of their communications with Mossack Fonseca.

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Art held offshore

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Pakistan's PM Leaves Country, Spanish Minister Resigns

Nawaz Sharif faces growing pressure and calls for his resignation, a Spanish minister has stepped aside, and more governments are pledging reform as fallout from the Panama Papers revelations continues.

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Panama Police Raid Mossack Fonseca As Global Fallout Continues

The search of Mossack Fonseca's Panama headquarters comes after a number of raids and official action taken in response to the Panama Papers revelations.

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Global joint investigation to be proposed at special tax meeting

Tax officials from 28 nations met in Paris to develop a strategy for collaborative action based on Panama Papers revelations.

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British PM Announces New Transparency Measures Following Panama Papers Revelations

David Cameron appeared before parliament on Monday to address concerns about his own links to offshore holdings revealed in the Panama Papers, as well as announce reform aimed at boosting transparency.

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The Art of Secrecy

Locked in the files of a Panama law firm are the answers to mysteries involving Van Goghs, Picassos, Rembrandts and other masterworks.

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Panama Papers Spark High-Level FIFA Resignation and Swiss Police Raid

Swiss police searched the office of Europe's top soccer association and a member of FIFA's ethics panel resigned following Panama Papers revelations.

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Leaked Files Offer Many Clues To Offshore Dealings by Top Chinese

Eight current and former members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the country's top decision makers, have relatives with secret offshore companies.

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Spies and Shadowy Allies Lurk in Secret With Help From Offshore Firm

Firm helps CIA operatives and other characters — real or fanciful — from the world of espionage set up offshore companies to obscure their dealings.

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Iceland Prime Minister Tenders Resignation Following Panama Papers Revelations

The prime minister of Iceland said he would resign following mass protests triggered by reports from ICIJ and partners that he had owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands with his wife.

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Law Firm’s Files Include Dozens of Companies and People Blacklisted by U.S. Authorities

Global law firm’s customers include suspected financiers of terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferators and gunrunners.

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How Family that Runs Azerbaijan Built an Empire of Hidden Wealth

Documents peel away three layers of secret ownership in a conglomerate and lead to gold mines and overseas real estate.

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Global Banks Team with Law Firms To Help the Wealthy Hide Assets

Leaked records show that hundreds of banks and their subsidiaries and branches registered nearly 15,600 shell companies.

About this project

The Panama Papers is an unprecedented investigation that reveals the offshore links of some of the globe’s most prominent figures.

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All Putin’s Men: Secret Records Reveal Money Network Tied to Russian Leader

Complex offshore financial deals channel money and power towards a network of people and companies linked to President Vladimir Putin.

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Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption

Millions of documents show heads of state, criminals and celebrities using secret hideaways in tax havens.

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Panamanian Law Firm Is Gatekeeper To Vast Flow of Murky Offshore Secrets

Files show client roster that includes drug dealers, Mafia members, corrupt politicians and tax evaders — and wrongdoing galore.

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Leak Ties Ethics Guru to Three Men Charged in FIFA Scandal

Secret documents show how deeply the world of soccer has become enmeshed in the world of offshore havens.

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Iceland’s Prime Minister Ducks Question But the Answer Catches Up with Him

He came to power after the country’s financial collapse while hiding his offshore holdings of millions in bonds from Icelandic banks.

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How the One Percenters Divorce: Offshore Intrigue Plays Hide and Seek with Millions

Firm that practices no matrimonial law nonetheless plays big role when the superrich around the globe decide to split.

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Diamond Mine with Offshore Ties Leaves Trail of Complaints

Panama Papers reveal network of shell companies linked to mining operation accused of environmental harms and unpaid taxes

By

In this story

  • Diamond mining company that defeated government requests to pay property taxes is accused of environmental damage and social upheaval
  • More than 130 companies linked to mining mogul Benjamin Steinmetz
  • Secrecy and complexity enabled by offshore companies make it hard for developing countries to get fair mining deals, expert says

Once or twice a week, as the sun sets on the city of Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone, residents pack their things and head uphill. A diamond mine is about to blow.

Some families leave behind boiling cooking pots, moved on by police and security forces before miners set off charges to blast away the dirt and rock that hide the diamonds. For some in this city of more than 100,000 residents, the explosions remind them of the mortar bombs that fell when Koidu was attacked by rebels during the West African nation’s civil war in the 1990s.

The earth shudders. Buildings crack. And Koidu residents’ lives go on as they have ever since an international mining conglomerate resumed digging in Koidu 13 years ago.

articles/00Africa/160725-sierraleone-05.jpg“When the blasting is done during the dry season, dust and pieces of rock sometimes fly into the air,” said Bondu Lebbie, a 21-year-old mother of two who lives at the foot of the mine’s waste heap. “The dust leads to coughing, headaches.”

She buys Panadol to dull the pain.

Lebbie’s story isn’t uncommon in places across Africa where mining and drilling operations seek oil, gas and minerals. Families who live near underground stores of natural wealth often struggle amid poverty and environmental hazards. Ventures that extract diamonds, oil and other valuable commodities, meanwhile, shuffle billions of dollars around the globe with the help of shell companies in Panama, the British Virgin Islands and other offshore havens.

“Whether it’s dust, water contamination, loss of land or violence, nearly all of the costs of mining activities in Africa are borne by the communities,” said Tricia Feeney, executive director of the British nongovernmental organization Rights and Accountability in Development. “And all the benefits are going to this tiny cadre of wheeler-dealers – individuals or companies.”

The Koidu diamond mine is operated by Koidu Limited, a company set up in the British Virgin Islands in 2003 for $750 by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm recently rocked by the leak of millions of files now known as the Panama Papers. The documents show that Koidu Limited is owned by Octea Mining Limited, a company in turn owned by a series of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey and Liechtenstein controlled by billionaire Israeli mining magnate Benjamin Steinmetz and his family.

articles/00Africa/160725-sierraleone-02.jpgMany of the diamonds blasted from the ground around the city of Koidu end up adorning engagement rings and pendants sold at Tiffany & Co., the luxury U.S. jeweler that loaned Koidu Limited tens of millions of dollars for rights to the stones.

Koidu Limited has become one of West Africa’s most recognizable – and controversial – mining companies.

In 2007 and in 2012, local residents and workers protested the company’s working conditions and environmental impacts. In both confrontations, police opened fire, killing two in 2007 and two more in 2012, including a 12-year-old boy.

In 2015, Sierra Leone authorities threatened to strip Koidu Limited of its license, accusing the company of failing to meet loan repayments owed to the government and bankers, according to The Wall Street Journal. That same year, lawyers for the city of Koidu alleged in court that the company had dodged hundreds of thousands of dollars in local property taxes. Koidu Limited, for its part, says it has spent millions in community development, including building a resettlement village and providing water taps, buses and a health clinic.

Koidu’s mayor, Saa Emmerson Lamina, led the court battle. Roads are bad and unemployment is high, he complains, and the nearest X-ray machine is 212 miles away. “If we got that money, we would have been able to make some serious changes in the lives of our people, in agriculture, education and even social welfare.”

articles/00Africa/160725-sierraleone-03.jpgHe said he fears there will be more confrontations if the mining company doesn’t change its practices.

“Otherwise, I’m afraid for the stability of Koidu City,” he said.

In 2016, months after the lawsuit was filed, the central government suspended Mayor Lamina from office amid allegations of financial mismanagement within Koidu City. An audit found a handful of administrative infractions, including an employee who carried city checkbooks with him on holidays and about $8,500 in unaccounted payments to contractors and third parties. No specific charges were made against Lamina.

Lamina says the suspension is an effort to silence him. Media reports suggested that the order came from the office of President Ernest Bai Koroma. “The lawsuit did not go down with my political superiors,” Lamina told ICIJ.

A spokesman for the president told ICIJ the suspension was a “local council issue” and that the president’s office had no involvement.

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Offshore deals

Koidu’s diamonds first appeared in the Panama Papers in 2002, shortly after the end of Sierra Leone’s civil war, when records indicated that the Steinmetz family’s private foundation signed off on a deal to pay $1.2 million to buy half of the mining license issued by the national government for Koidu mine.

Koidu Limited became one of Mossack Fonseca’s busiest mining industry customers, with hundreds of emails and attachments sent over more than a decade that detail mundane to urgent administrative tasks, accounts at five banks in Sierra Leone and London and a flurry of loans worth $170 million.

The Sierra Leone mining company is one of 131 companies set up by Mossack Fonseca connected to Steinmetz and the company that sits at the top of his corporate empire, BSG Resources, according to the law firm’s internal files.

These companies include diamond mine operators, traders and polishers in Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Liberia and the Congo. One company, Diacor International Limited, reported producing a variety of diamonds, including some in “fancy colours.” The records indicate that Diacor booked more than $1 billion in sales each year from 2011 to 2013.

Steinmetz’s deals in Guinea, Sierra Leone’s northern neighbor, drew much of Mossack Fonseca’s attention.

In August 2014, authorities in the British Virgin Islands ordered Mossack Fonseca to provide hundreds of pages of correspondence, payments, meeting minutes, financial transactions and more from three companies in relation to a criminal investigation into BSG Resources.

The inquiry related to allegations that people connected to BSG were being investigated in multiple countries for bribes paid to secure mining rights in Guinea. In documents later shared with Mossack Fonseca, BSG’s lawyers confirmed it was under investigation by authorities in Britain, Switzerland and the United States. It also challenged the government of Guinea on the grounds that the government unlawfully stripped BSG of its mining rights.

BSG Resources declined to answer specific questions for this article. The company said “it uses offshore companies and related structures as part of its legitimate and fiscally responsible tax planning” and discloses information when and where required. BSG told ICIJ that it has “no familiarity” with “a very large number of companies” of the 131 Mossack Fonseca companies that appeared connected to Steinmetz and BSG within the law firm’s files.

Death and taxes

One of the two demonstrators who died during the 2007 protest against Koidu Limited was Aiah Momoh, a 30-year-old father of three girls. A memorial sign says Aiah died “during a peaceful demonstration … against Koidu Holdings S.A. Limited for corporate abuse of community rights.”

While the company’s operations were briefly halted by the government, a commission of inquiry later cleared the company of blame, saying that the security officers who killed the protesters were not under the authority of the company.

articles/00Africa/160725-sierraleone-07.jpg“Aiah was taking care of us,” said his mother Sia Momoh, sitting on the floor of the family’s mud brick house spinning cotton.

“I don’t pass by the junction where his grave is,” said Yei Momoh, Aiah’s sister. “It is a constant reminder of our plight. Aiah was just all we had in this family.”

In 2015, the community took their grievances from the streets to the courtroom. After years of unheeded requests for payment, the Koidu city council sued Koidu Limited’s parent, Octea Limited, claiming that the company owed $684,000 in unpaid property taxes.

Not paying property taxes, Mayor Lamina wrote in an affidavit, “deprived my community of the much needed resources to undertake development activities. … I believe the community that owns it[s] resources cannot be deprived of benefiting from their own minerals and have to go cap in hand begging.”

Koidu maintained it was exempt from taxes but that it was committed to its corporate social responsibilities.

In April, four days after the release of the Panama Papers, Justice Bintu Alhadi of the High Court of Sierra Leone ruled that Octea and Koidu Limited were separate entities and Octea was not technically the mine’s owner. As a result, the judge found, Octea had no duty to pay property tax.

“The secrecy of tax havens and the complexity with which companies can arrange their businesses makes it difficult for developing countries to get a fair deal in the share of revenue from their natural resources,” said Tatu Ilunga, a former tax lawyer and senior policy advisor on tax for Oxfam America.

Lamina, who says that he believes that the central government doesn’t have the power to suspend him from the mayor’s office, continues to operate as if he is still mayor. He believes he will soon be reinstated and said the city plans to appeal the judge’s ruling in the property tax case.

“I started seeing myself as a lone ranger,” Lamina told ICIJ. “But, as it turned out, the support of the people in Koidu [is] encouraging in fighting for the cause of the people.”

Silas Gbandia and Cooper Inveen are Sierra Leone-based journalists whose reporting for this story was supported by the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) and The GroundTruth Project. Khadija Sharife is a South Africa-based reporter and project co-ordinator for ANCIR.

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