News - “Data is raw information, devoid of subjective interpretation”
What was your part in ICIJ’s offshore leaks project?
I am covering Slovenia and coordinating the former Yugoslav area.
When did you join the project?
I was invited to join in May 2012, but only got access to the first data near the end of the year.
What were the most significant findings in Slovenia?
Two cases come to mind. The first is that of Zoltan Varga, a partner at Och Ziff Capital Fund, the 5th largest hedge fund on Wall Street, who opened three companies on the British Virgin Islands in November 2007. He is a former Goldman Sachs employee working in Hong Kong as Och Ziff’s Asian operations chief today. Even though he is one of the wealthiest Slovenes, he was completely unknown by the Slovene public before offshore leaks. Despite being low profile he stays in touch with Slovenia. Through a company called BVI he registered a yacht that is anchored in Croatia, where he also owns villa in a seaside resort.
A second case that was quite significant is that of Marijan Groff, former manager of the Slovenian Development Capital Fund (SDCF), the first Slovenian equity fund, founded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank's International Financial Corporation in 1995. Groff opened offshore company SDCF Holdings Limited on the British Virgin Islands in August 2005, just a few months after the original SDCF had been dissolved. He is the former head of Slovenia's Agency for Bank Rehabilitation between 1992 and 1995 (bad asset management bank). He chaired the supervisory boards of two Slovene industrial companies. One went bankrupt and left hundreds unemployed, the other is still facing difficulties from the period when Groff was at its helm. He has been indicted for Abuse of Position or Rights in Business Activity in court in the Slovene city of Koper. Five co-defendants are accused. They allegedly gained 7 million Euros through illicit property benefits.
How did the Slovene media react to offshore leaks?
Initially, many media reported extensively about the Slovene names in the offshore leaks data. As far as the latest exclusive revelations are concerned, they are really new and surprising, and it seems that some local media still need a bit of time to evaluate them.
How do you balance it with other projects that you’ve been working on?
I am doing the best I can, but there are only 24 hours in a day. We launched the website of the Slovene Centre for Investigative Journalism (www.cpns.si) simultaneously with ICIJ’s offshore leaks, which obviously was a huge amount of extra work for me. Also, I am still working on the Croatian translation of the In the Name of the State trilogy.
As CPNS.si is currently collaborating on the offshore leaks project with POP TV, the most watched TV channel in Slovenia, and with 24ur.com, the country’s most visited news website, this is very good opportunity to promote investigative journalism and our centre in Slovenia even more. Hectic times!
You worked with huge amounts of documents and data for In the Name of the State. What are the advantages of data journalism over other types of journalism?
A major advantage of data journalism for me is that it works with raw data, with raw, unprocessed information. That means that you have at your disposal information that is completely devoid of subjective interpretation, which you do have when using other, more traditional investigative journalism methods. Sources in an interview, for example, will in many cases attach subjectivity to the information they give you, even if they don’t necessarily mean to.
Another advantage is of course that data is mostly hard evidence. Especially when you can extract it from official documents it can often count as original evidence or hard proof.
Finally, official documents of that kind often come in multiple numbers. Having several documents on one and the same person or topic in a database allows for high possibility checks in the initial phase of investigation.
Thank you for the interview.
Blaž Zgaga will be present at #dataharvest13, on 3 and 4 May in Brussels.
Video, subtitled in English, about Zoltan Varga.
By Rafael Njotea