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Organisation: Animal Político
Name: Yosune Chamizo Alberro
E-Mail: yosunechamizoalberro@gmail.com
Category: Research

Name of Project: Sinapsis (Synapses): a piece of software that promotes the use of open data to discover connections between companies that received public resources by corrupt governments in Latin America

Description of Project: Mexico it’s an extremely corrupt country where politicians steal money without sanctions. The modus operandi all across Latin America is very similar: government officials create ghost companies, the government assigns projects to these fake businesses and the money disappears. Animal Político, a digital and independent news outlet in Mexico City, published two investigations on corruption in Mexico: Ghost Companies of Veracruz and The Master Scam. The latter revealed that the Federal Government disappeared around 400 million USD through 186 companies. These investigations won the National Journalism Award and have been essential for the prosecution of several former and current public officials. During these investigations we worked through: How could we detect these companies? Having limited time, how could we systematize and automatize this process? With the volume of information we had, could information design and technology give us additional insights to our manual analysis? That’s how we started Sinapsis. We developed the tool while we were structuring and advancing the investigation with an interdisciplinary team (information designers, journalists and developers). It is very rare to see small independent news media building technology. Sinapsis visualizes relationships between businesses and government entities, plus how companies and their personnel are interconnected. As a free, open-source project, it’s designed to help detect irregularities and suspicious activity in business interactions and practices. In only two months, 180 projects are using it and 5 people forked our repository. Sinapsis includes the investigation methodology; tips on useful public databases; builds community through an open Telegram channel; and aims to systematize information on corrupt companies across Latin America. To date, we have allies collaborating from Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Venezuela. During this first phase, we want to train local journalists in Mexico. So far, we have given workshops in Mexico City, Hidalgo, Guadalajara, Puebla and have already scheduled Tijuana and Mexicali. We would like, further down the line, with the right allies and resources to be able to reach different countries in Latin America. The project has had international recognition, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime invited us to their regional convention in Quito, Ecuador for the experience we had with this tool and it was also accepted at the TicTec conference in Iceland and the CSV conference in Washington.

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