From the President

Unified truth seekers expose fraud and corruption

When you think of how the Panama Papers unfolded, you could imagine a scene from a movie: a hero with great hair meeting with an anonymous source on a park bench and exchanging code words.

But, as we know, our realities can be much stranger than fiction. The initial exchange of the Panama Papers began at Bastian Obermayer’s parents’ home in Germany. His wife and kids were sick with stomach bugs, and he was graciously cleaning up one mess after another. In his words, it was a “really bad day.” He couldn’t know that one strange email would change his life, his newspaper and investigative journalism forever. The subject line read, “Interested in data?”

Bastian had no idea what he’d received at first, as we read in the cover article by Emily Primeaux, CFE. “John Doe” mentioned that his or her “life is in danger.” After Bastian received document after document, he knew this was bigger than he could’ve ever imagined. The documents exposed powerful people in business, industry and government from around the world who were using a small law firm based in Panama to hide assets and escape tax liabilities. Like the beginning of many fraud examinations, Bastian slowly pulled together an investigative journalist team at his German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The data from the anonymous source kept growing, so Bastian requested larger computers from his newspaper to handle the strain of analyzing so many documents.

Then, like so many fraud examiners, he realized he needed help. Bastian reached out to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), an invitation-only club for investigative journalists to which he belonged. ICIJ members — who are from around the globe — helped determine the distinctive regional importance of the information written in their languages. As we often do in our fraud examinations, he needed to assemble the pieces of a puzzle, but his consisted of more than two terabytes of data and 11 million documents.

Only a unified team of journalists could’ve thoroughly analyzed the Panama Papers. Four hundred voices via dozens of global media outlets — not just one newspaper — proclaimed the news.

Bastian had the ICIJ’s support to understand and disseminate the Panama Papers. As likeminded CFEs, we also can collaborate and encourage each other — equipped with a dynamic body of knowledge and expertise honed through experience — in our battle against fraud and corruption.

Bruce Dorris, J.D., CFE, CPA, is president and CEO of the ACFE. Contact him at