Power of Investigative Journalism

With the Internet, documents end up in journalists’ email boxes or are “leaked” from an organization’s servers, as with the Wikileaks, Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, and Bahama documents. While this makes it easier to access information, it makes it so difficult to reach the right information.

For example, like our PANAMA PAPERS news.

In 2005, Pietro Mancini, a lab analyst, discovered a coating of yellow dust and yellow sludge in the basement and storeroom of a chemical factory in the northern Italian town of Spinetta Marengo. Lab results showed it was hexavalent chromium, a heavy metal known to cause cancer. 

When Belgian chemical giant Solvay SA acquired the aging plant in 2001, it promised to clean up the contaminated site and prevent hazardous leaks. Bernard de Laguiche, an executive and member of Solvay’s founding family, oversaw the acquisition. But the cleanup lagged. Three years after Mancini’s discovery, environmental inspectors found hexavalent chromium at more than40 times the legal limit in wells near the plant. Officials declared a public health emergency. 

Italian prosecutors brought criminal charges against more than two dozen people including de Laguiche, accusing them of contaminating the town’s water supply. Pandora Papers show how, before the charges were filed and soon after, de Laguiche and his family moved assets worth more than $50 million into trusts in Singapore and New Zealand. 

Ultimately, “it’s the middle class and the poor who are paying for everything” says Professor Eric Kades of William & Mary Law School, “because the wealthy have found a way not to pay their fair share.” De Laguiche was later acquitted. Mancini was firedafter reporting the findings. In 2015, he had a cancerous tumor removed from his right kidney.

Mancini has since moved away from Spinetta Marengo but continues to have nightmares about working in the contaminated lab. He hasn’t completely recovered from his cancer surgery, he said. He used to swim and play tennis. Now he can’t, without feeling dizzy or tired. He has no regrets about blowing the whistle on his former employer. 

“I would do it again,” said Mancini. “I don’t have anybody’s health on my conscience.” 

A day after responding to ICIJ’s questions for this story in September, de Laguiche resigned from his position at Solvay and its parent company — “strictly for personal reasons,” he reportedly said. 

This is the power of investigative journalism. 

Still today, Spinetta Marengo residents continue to fight. They want Solvay to complete the cleanup, while authorities are again investigating allegations the plant may still be leaking toxic chemicals. As reporters, our responsibility is to make their voice heard and expose inequality and injustice when we see it.

We cannot do this without you. 

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