Massive support for investigative journalist accused of 'betraying trade secrets'

By Jane Whyatt

German investigative reporter Oliver Schröm faces a possible three years in jail just for doing his job by exposing wrongdoing on a massive scale. 

Massive support for investigative reporter accused of 'betraying trade secrets' Oliver Schröm. Foto: Ivo Mayr, Correctiv

As the Editor-in-Chief of Correctiv he built a team to uncover the so-called Cum Ex scandal which is estimated to have defrauded European taxpayers out of 55.2 billion euros in unpaid taxes.

Correctiv’s strongly-worded open letter to Germany’s Justice Minister Katarina Barley and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz gathered more than 15,000 signatures in just one day. The letter is headed: ’Journalism is not a crime’ and points out that the journalistic investigation revealed a major theft from the public purse, in other words from European citizens. 

This is money from our citizens that should have been used for worthwhile reasons – for kindergartens, schools, care for our elderly.“

Reacting to the overwhelming response to the open letter through signatures, media reports and social media messages of support, Schröm says on the Correctiv website:

It feels good to get so much solidarity from readers and from colleagues. Especially since this involves more than just my personal situation: press freedom is being put at risk, also through upcoming changes in the law“ 

Schröm refers to a new law on the protection of trade secrets currently being discussed in a committee of the German Parliament (Bundestag). 

He is being prosecuted under the existing law, but the new draft law , known by the acronym GeschGehG, will give even greater protection to those who wish to keep their business dealings secret.

It includes a paragraph that will make it easier for small businesses and startups to claim protection of their trade secrets  - even if they cannot afford to put in place the sort of measures that big companies use to prevent unauthorised access. But there is no mention of journalists’ and whistleblowers’ right to uncover secrets in the public interest. 

The new law, if it is passed in this form, would make it almost impossible to mount the kind of investigation that Correctiv accomplished in the Cum Ex case. Schröm worked with an international team of journalists and newspapers and ARD TV’s magazine Panorama. Germany’s Die Zeit and French national newspaper Le Monde, Italy’s la Repubblica, El Confidencial in Spain and international news agency Thomson Reuters were also amongst the consortium of media outlets that co-operated on the story.

The undercover investor 

Schröm went undercover. Posing as an investor with his ’brother’, they secretly filmed a meeting at London’s high-class Shangri-la hotel. They used inside information to persuade the business leader they met that they, too, were willing to take part in transactions designed to exploit the tax system and get re-imbursed for ’taxes’ that had in fact never been paid.

It worked. They were able to discover how trades worth millions of euros can be made through the Cum Ex mechanism. One source for the story are the statements of a whistleblower, a former banker. For a TV documentary, the team protected him by changing his appearance and voice, using a mask and a prosthetic chin. It’s a gripping story.

Correctiv is joining the Berlin conference UNCOVERED, organised by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and the International Press Institute to showcase our grants to cross-border teams of investigative journalists. The teams are researching people-trafficking, abuse of EU funds and the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder inquiry, as well as other untold stories. The speaker from Correctiv is reporter Annika Joeres and she will contribute to the debate about investigative journalism in a difficult political atmosphere.

The conference is free to attend and you can register here until 21. January 2019.




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