In 2010 and 2011, hundreds of European citizens were drawn into a scam that cost them an estimated 80 million euros. And without the work of journalist Mahir Sahinovic, who was trained by Thomson Reuters Foundation and recently won an award for his work, hardly anyone would know about this scandal.
Mahir, a reporter at the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) and at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), has received the 2013 CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism for his work on the story. The award is given by the Central European Initiative and the South East Europe Media Organisation and recognises outstanding investigative work under difficult conditions.
Mahir’s reports focussed on a company called Dunmorr Group, based in Sarajevo. Its offices had been raided and shut down by police in 2012, but there was very little information on why this had happened.
Mahir explains: “I found out that two brothers with Bosnian and Serbian citizenship, Zoran and Goran Samardzija, were the owners of Dunmorr Group, a firm incorporated in Switzerland. I also found the firm had set up a network of illegal call centres in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2010 and 2011 to trade shares on the German stock exchange. Every day, a dozen workers in these call centres, using fictitious names of persons and firms, dialled residents of the European Union promising easy riches.”
To do this, Mahir says the company would “buy large amounts of shares in worthless firms and then offer these en masse to EU buyers. They artificially generated interest in their shoddy shares which then led to their fast rise in value on the stock exchange. After the sales frenzy, interest in the shares slumped again and the shares quickly lost value. The naive buyers were left unable to sell their worthless shares to anyone else.”
To find out what had happened, Mahir spent countless hours reading documents, finding victims of the scam in various countries, and – critically – securing an interview with one of the former employees of Dunmorr Group.
Shortly before Mahir covered the story, he attended a Thomson Reuters Foundation training course on economic and political reporting in southeast Europe – part of a long-running partnership with Robert Bosch Stiftung. Mahir says the training was vital in helping him with the investigation.
“In this training I learned about stock market and securities, which meant I was able to understand the information much faster, and I didn’t need a lot of help from experts. The training also helped me to be more organized while writing the story – my writing and the story structure was improved thanks to the trainers.”
Mahir’s investigation also had an impact: before his story was published, there was no cooperation between Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Serbian police to investigate the culprits, and no awareness of the scandal outside of the region – even though most of the victims were from German- and Dutch-speaking countries. Mahir’s work changed all that.
“After publishing the story in EU countries, investigators from Holland contacted the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo and asked for help. Following on from this they went to Serbia and visited the police agencies. This visit resulted in the beginning of cooperation between Bosnian and Serbian police agencies, and that started a joint investigation of the people behind Dunmorr Group.”