Journalist uses training from Foundation to uncover embassy corruption

by Derek Thorne
Thursday, 16 January 2014 15:47 GMT

Wade Williams, with Thomson Reuters Foundation trainer Keith Stafford, after taking part in the Governance Reporting training course in December 2013.

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In Liberia, a corruption scandal is developing – and it came about after a Thomson Reuters Foundation journalism trainee used her new skills to report on suspicious practices at the Liberian Embassy in Brussels.

In Liberia, a corruption scandal is developing – and it came about after a Thomson Reuters Foundation journalism trainee used her new skills to report on suspicious practices at the Liberian Embassy in Brussels.

In December 2013 Wade Williams, who works for the newspaper FrontPageAfrica in Liberia, took part in a Governance Reporting training course in London, together with journalists from 12 other countries including Bhutan, East Timor, Myanmar, Tunisia and Mexico.

The course developed the skills of journalists in carrying out corruption investigations, mainly through practical exercises that focused on the fictional country of Manchukistan. It covered issues including sourcing, interview techniques, and the legal dangers that journalists can face when covering sensitive stories.

Wade’s story looked at the Liberian Ambassador to Belgium and the rental payments he was making on his residence. Working with the Belgian news organisation VTM NIEUWS, she found that the Ambassador was claiming more than the actual rent on the property.

Wade told us that the story has sparked a major scandal, with the entire staff of the embassy being recalled, and a government investigation being launched. “The story has made headways and every other media outlet here is quoting it now,” she said.

Wade also told us how she went about the investigation.

“I did the investigation after the course with Thomson Reuters Foundation using what I learned in London,” she explained. “I got a tip off about these fake leases at the Liberian foreign mission in Brussels but did not know what to do with it. I then approached the government for copies of the lease agreement and after several weeks they did provide it.

“I then contacted the ambassador for his side of the story which he provided, and I also talked to experts in the sector. After all that I put the story together and then fact checked to make sure it was correct on details.

“I also tried to link this to how the money taken in corruption could have helped national endeavours like schools, hospital and roads.

“I was shocked that the government swiftly moved to recall the ambassador and the entire embassy staff and launch an investigation across all its embassies.

“I am very grateful for the course.”

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