Big money in Illegal Ukrainian amber

Wherever you find precious stones like amber, you also find smugglers and organized crime. The Volyn region in Ukraine and the Russian enclave Kaliningrad – both with large deposits of the precious material – are no exceptions, and consequently the Polish city of Gdansk is the capital of a veritable industry of  illegal jewellery.

The Russian reporter Nikita Kuzmin and his Ukrainian colleague Maya Holub investigated how amber is mined illegally, crossing borders illegally and the structures behind the schemes. And surprise, surprise: a friend, Sergey Chemezov, of the Russian president Vladimir Putin is in this business.

The article “How Ukrainian Amber is Illegally Transported to Poland” by reporters Maya Holub from the Ukrainian/Polish newspaper “Monitor Wołyński” and Nikita Kuzmin from the Kaliningrad business portal was published online on the portal on February 24, 2016.

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SCOOP Coordinator Wins Golden Spade Prize

GuldspadegalanValeria Helander, Swedish SCOOP coordinator for St. Petersburg, was awarded the Golden Spade Prize on Saturday evening at the annual Swedish investigative journalism conference. The prize was given in the magazine category. Congratulations!

Valeria Helander and her colleague Elin Ericsson received the prize in recognition of their documenttation of how the Swedish immigration authorities use non-qualified interpreters, which makes an already difficult situation worse for refugees arriving in Sweden. Their work was published in the magazine Faktum.

FOTO: Gräv2016

CIJ Summer School Open for Booking

The Summer School at Center for Investigative Journalism at University of London is open for bookings.

Focus is on on data journalism for all levels. From beginners to advanced, featuring hands-on sessions and case studies. There will also be courses on how to conduct investigations, covert filming, financial investigations, sports corruption, the Freedom of Information Act and much more.

Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and author James B. Steele and the editor-in-chief of The Intercept Betsy Reed will be among this year’s keynote speakers.

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Too Much Water Makes The Kaliningrad Sausage Profitable

Three out of four samples of so-called high quality sausages bought in the local food store in Kaliningrad contained much more water than allowed in the Russian state standards. That was the result when the reporter Anastasia Drozdova in Novy Karavan sent the samples she had bought to laboratories.

The investigation was published 22nd of December 2015 in Novy Karavan Nr 41. This was the second time the investigative reporter Anastasia Drozdova tried to figure out what the sausage from local producers in Kaliningrad is made of. The first attempt failed, as any of laboratories couldn’t tell how much meat was in the sausage.

But Anastasia Drozdova didn’t give in. She bought a selection of locally produced high quality sausages in the food store and sent it to three different laboratories – in Kaliningrad, Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

The result was astonishing. According to the protocols from the labs, three out of four samples contained more water than allowed in the state standards, to which the producers referred on the package. Since water is cheaper than meat, this makes it profitable for the producer, but the customer is cheated.

In a message The Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights in Russia, Rospotrebnadzor writes, that food that does not live up to the information on the package should not be sold. The consumer who bought it has the right to get their money back, according to the statement.

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Read the full supplement of the investigation(Russian only) – page 1-2page 3page 4page 5-6page 7-8

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Public Transport as a Private Money Machine

In Syktyvkar – the capital of the Russian region Komi – the largest company  in local public transport, Alpha-Trans, went bankrupt. That’s what happens in a market economy. Or is it?

The journalist Maxim Poliakov took a closer look and found an interesting scheme, where the busses transported money directly into the pockets of a small circle of businessmen and politicians.

He published his findings in the article  “Alpha (in a ) Trance. Who Is Making a Profit out off Syktyvar’s Public Transportation?” in the 7×7 journal on October 28, 2015.

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Land Scandals in Pskov’s Border District

The properties around Lake Peipus in the Pskov district are attractive. Who gets them? Reporter Maksim Andreev took a closer look in this investigation.

The distribution of land along the shore of Lake Peipus in the Gdovsk District of Russia’s Pskov Province is the topic for Maksim Andreev’s investigation. In his project the reporter found out how, to whom, and under what circumstances elite properties were handed out. The situation surrounding the gratuitous distribution of land along the shores of Lake Peipus has already been brought to the attention of law enforcement.

In 2013, a document was passed with the name of “The Status of the Order to Hand Out Land from the Fund for Redistribution of Land Belonging to the Gdovsk District Municipality, to Companies and Individual Enterprises for the Purpose of Agricultural Production.” The gist of it is simple: companies and individual enterprises interested in taking up agriculture in the municipality’s territory can receive free unclaimed land previously belonging to kolkhozi, collective farms. But in practice, the properties are located on the coast of Lake Peipus were never used for agricultural production.

The story is Maksim Andreev’s fourth investigation in the Scoop Russia project. The investigation “A Gdovsk Anomaly” was published in Pskovinform.

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A Cheesy Story about Fake Fat

What goes into Russian cheeses?  One out of three tested cheese brands in Kaliningrad shops contained fat that did not come from milk. That was the result when the journalist Irina Krivonos bought three different cheeses and sent them to two different labs for analysis, one lab in Saint Petersburg and one in Lithuania.

Since the Russian import restrictions, implemented in August 2014, banned the sale of cheese produced abroad, there have been a lot of discussions in Russian media about what to eat. But in Kaliningrad there have been no empty shelves. Irina Krivonos chose two cheese brands made in Kaliningrad, and one imported from the mainland Russia. The two local brands were, according to the lab analysis, made out of milk. But the fat in the “imported” Russian cheese Laskava was not only milk-fat. The test in the Saint Petersburg lab put the level of milk-fat to “not less than 73 percent”, which means 27 percent could be made from other sources than milk. The result was confirmed and clarified by the Lithuanian laboratory, describing the share of non-milk fat as about 8 percent.

A widespread suspicion in Russia is that dairies are cheating customers by adding cheap imported palm oil in the cheeses. Wether the found non-milk fat consist of palm oil or any other vegetable fat, was impossible to find out in the lab analysis.

The story was published in Dvornik on December 22, 2015.

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Trust! That is What Sausages Are Made Of

How much meat does one find in the sausage? Anastasia Drozdova from Kaliningrad decided to investigate the quality of the locally produced sausages for her newspaper “Novy Karavan”. The reason is obvious.

Meat production in the region is not sufficient to cover the needs of the manufacturers of meat products. In the past, a lot of meat was imported.

A few years ago, a meat import was significantly reduced due to concerns for African swine fever . Then the economical sanctions hit Russia, and Russia answered with a ban on import of meat from the EU.

So what do sausage makers put in their products? Internal organs? Blood protein? Water? Soya beans? Anastasia Drozdova decided to find it out.

The result was – not satisfying: it is impossible to measure the meat content in the sausages. Local producers claim that their products are of better quality than those produced in the mainland Russia. Drozdova bought locally produced sausages in the store and sent it to three different laboratories for analysis.This is the story of her findings.

The article was published November 24th 2015 in Novy Karavan. Continuation of the story will be published later.

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Information on Land Allocation Evaporated

The former mayor of the Russian city of Syktyvkar, Ivan Pozdeev, has been arrested, suspected of abuse of power and embezzlement. But what has happened to the documentation?

Reporter Ekaterina Klepikovskaya tried to find out what the former mayor had actually done, and she realized that it’s almost impossible to find information on the allocation of land plots in the capital of the region Komi. Authorities also tried – unsuccesfully – to stop her research.

Her article was published 28th of October 2015 on the website komionline.

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Imprisoned by a Railroad Track

A small residential area in the Karelian village of Chalna has been cut off from the rest of the village for almost four years, because the railroad company without any warning closed a crossing and thus blocked the only road. Residents had to park at the tracks and carry all all supplies to their homes.

To add insult to injury authorities also stopped gas for heating. Residents tried all options to get the crossing open or a new small road and met a bureaucracy that would have amazed even Kafka.

The reporter Marina Bedorfas interviewed all parties involved and accompanied the residents, when they met authoritie. Finally, this summer a primitive road was constructed.

The text was published 1st of December 2015 in the 7×7 journal.

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