The invisible front against investigative journalists

Cornelia Cozonac

When you work on journalistic investigations you inevitably upset someone, especially if you ruin their business, reveal their relationships and interests. If criminal cases are opened against them based on journalistic investigations, then all their people hate you and some seek revenge, even if they are in other countries. It's just that the revenges are quite subtle and, most often, harsh and dangerous. These do not compare to those that come through the statistics and reports of NGOs  from us.

In fact, our cases, of journalists from the Center of Investigative Journalism, do not even make it into the reports, because some of our experts are like lazy journalists, they also copy-paste from wherever they can. And since we don't jump with the microphone in arms at the police during protests, we don't pull on closed doors and scream that we don't have access, we also have no way to be heard or seen by the experts who receive money for all kinds of monitoring and reports on the situation of the media from us. We search, we document, we put our minds to work, we put together things, details, we enter through the window, if they don't welcome us at the door, but we find everything we need to uncover corruption cases, hidden interests and businesses, underestimated or undeclared assets.

And those we investigate,  harass us, with threats, criminal complaints, reports to different structures and we have to go through trials, write explanations to the police, the prosecutor's office, the National Center for the Personal Data Protection or the Press Council.

More recently, we still have 11 criminal cases open, just in the last year, based on the evidence from the investigations carried out by the team of the Center for Investigative Journalism, our reporters are also called as witnesses in corruption cases. And we also allocate time for it, even if all the information we have is in plain sight, in the journalistic investigations we publish on our portal

It also happens that mothers, the wives of officials or even top officials follow us, lurk around street corners and accost us. In recent years some threats after the publication of investigations are ... curses. We have had several cases of this kind. Last year, the mother of a prosecutor accosted one of our reporters on the street, threatening her with revenge, but also with curses on her family, because she revealed the property and some donations that were not related to the prosecutor's income.

We faced curses from the wife of the prosecutor from Ciocana Igor Popa, the lawyer Ala Popa, whose hidden property was revealed in a CIJM investigation. She has harassed us for two years, with complaints of all kinds we had to give answers, to attend meetings, to explain to officials what mean the documentation into a journalistic investigation and they do not understand from either the first, not from the second explanation. And in the end, they ruled that we violated the law because we checked the property of the prosecutor's wife, but we did not publish the investigation. Yes, at that time we had not published it, because an investigation is not written the day after you checked some information in a database. It is difficult for officials to understand that for an investigation,  sometimes,  you can document just to convince yourself that the assumption from which you started does not come true. And in such cases you can not even publish the investigation, but for this you have to document, make sure it is so. But based on a decision of some officials who have not understood much, the prosecutor's wife complains to the police and asks for a criminal trial to start.

The police have been conducting that criminal trial for a year. And when they find that they have no evidence to open a criminal case against the journalists who published the investigation and in which they proved that the prosecutor and his wife resorted to a divorce in order to hide his property that he could not justify from the prosecutor's salary, it goes further. A complaint is filed in court, to a judge who was subordinate to the prosecutor, and he cancels the order not to start the criminal investigation, subtly implying to the prosecutors that they have to find something to open a criminal case against the journalists. Tangled. The circumstances of this case are quite complicated, but it is a way of putting pressure on the journalists, a kind of revenge, because they, the investigative journalists, ruined their plans, uncovered their hidden property. It was not done by prosecutors, nor by integrity inspectors, but by investigative journalists. And when a criminal case for illicit enrichment was opened against the prosecutor and his wife, the lawyer started direct and unpleasant attacks on journalists on social networks.

A few years ago, the wife of a Socialist MP notified us about a case of alleged abuse by a bank and asked us to investigate the case. We investigated and found that the problem is in the deputy's family, who allegedly had some deals with the bank. After that, the deputy's wife started calling us and cursing us, that we would have created problems in her family. Here are the curses we still don't really know how to fight or to defend ourselves...

A recent threat, which has already turned into harassment, comes from a guy who settled in the US, from Ruslan Popov's gang. He initially threatened to report us  to the FBI (US Federal Bureau of Investigation). He saw that we were not scared, he moved on to more concrete complaints - to the Police and to the court  from the Republic of Moldova. His name appears in one of the two criminal files opened against Ruslan Popov.

Also, the prosecutor Popov sued us, after the first investigation into his hidden property. That case is suspended until his criminal cases are over.

This is what the invisible front on which investigative journalists have to fight looks like. For many, it is impossible to understand it, even if they are experts in the media and make reports, because they have not tried to do at least once, a minimal investigation, to see what is it like. But we continue to do our work, because beyond the process of documenting, uncovering hidden and sophisticated schemes, for which a lot of money is allocated, as more money is stolen, the satisfaction from working in investigative journalism is  special.

Cornelia Cozonac
2022-05-23 15:38:00