The leak of the JERSEY OFFSHORE files came about as a consequence of one of the great journalistic tragedies of recent history. In October 2017 Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb while investigating high-level corruption in her country, an investigation spurred by the 2016 leak of tax haven files known as the Panama Papers. Her murder shocked journalists around the world. It led to a multi-country collaboration of investigative journalists, run by the French Forbidden Stories organisation and known as the Daphne Project. The goal was to continue Daphne’s investigation of the Maltese government corruption and a connected Azerbaijan money-laundering network.

New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager participated in the Daphne Project in early 2018, after some of the Azerbaijan money-laundering network led to an address in Auckland, the northern city of New Zealand. The address was the office of a small offshore services company. A British-born lawyer who worked there had set up New Zealand front companies to take over nominal ownership of European-based assets that were part of the money-laundering network. Mr Hager provided details to the international collaboration and wrote a story for Radio New Zealand about the role of the New Zealand-based lawyer.

Two weeks after that story was published he received an email out of the blue (on 2 May 2018) from a US businessman who was having trouble with the same NZ-based lawyer. My name is Darrin Stock, the email began, I recently saw the article you wrote on Denton Morrell and Matt Butterfield. I am currently in litigation with Butterfield in Denver, Colorado. I have information that I am sure will fill in some of the gaps you have on this guy.

The information showed that the lawyer had been banned from the Channel Island tax haven of Guernsey before shifting and setting up shop in New Zealand. Mr Hager wrote a follow-up story on this and described Darrin and his wife Tanya’s legal battle with the lawyer and others.

He stayed in contact with the couple in the following months. At some point they mentioned the boxes. By strange serendipity, they had come into possession of hundreds of thousands of pages of files from a tax haven company – the same sort of secret tax haven documents that had been released in the Panama Papers.

Mr Hager proposed to them that there was a high public interest in the files being publicised. He said that a series of large tax haven leaks were gradually forcing reforms to the secretive tax haven world. The next focus could be Jersey, where the tax have files came from. Darrin and Tanya agreed that he could study what was revealed in the files before they made a final decision on his proposal. In May 2019 they posted him a hard drive from Britain containing the files.

Mr Hager told the couple that, unlike other tax haven leaks, it was not realistic to hide their identity as the source of the documents. Their link to the files was too hard to keep secret. If the files were going to be publicised, they would have to be publicly identified as the sources. They would become whistle blowers. After much discussion, they agreed. In February 2020 Mr Hager linked up with investigative journalists he had worked with before in various countries, and then more from other countries – under the auspices of European Investigative Collaborations – to investigate and prepare stories on what the documents revealed. The exposure of Jersey-based money laundering would be another unintended consequence of Daphne’s murder.