2023 Shortlist

Military power: Network of arms companies profiting from EU funds

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Serbia

Publishing organisation: Investigate Europe, InfoLibre, Publico

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-03-28

Language: English, Spanish, Portuguese

Authors: Ana Curic, Paulo Pena and Manuel Rico


Ana Curic is an investigative and data journalist based in Belgrade, Serbia. She was Investigate Europe’s fellow, OCCRP intern, worked at BIRN Serbia, and currently is in the DL News investigations team.
Paulo Pena is a Portuguese journalist and co-founder of the European cooperative of journalists Investigate Europe. He was a reporter at large for Visão, Público and Diário de Notícias where he won several awards.
Manuel Rico is a journalist and editor from Spain. He is a head of the investigative team of infoLibre and part of Investigate Europe. He has been editor of Interviú, Tiempo and Público.

Project description:

Investigation called Small group of big arms producers profit most of EU defence funding is a story about money flows and network of companies that profited most from EU money for military development. The story reveals how the complex ownership of companies that are partly state-owned involve US investment funds, that at the same time have shares in their rival US military companies. It’s a fully data-driven project about one of the most important topics at the moment – defence. Data has been leading us and we were following the money and looking into ownership of dozens of companies involved.

Impact reached:

One of the strengths of this investigation is the fact it was at the same time a cross-border story and individual, it is not possible to divide it in pieces, not by country, neither by players. It is a puzzle that makes sense only when all the pieces are together and only then reveals for the first time how EU money for military development has been spent and how those companies are co-owned by EU governments and US investment funds that are at the same time shareholders of their rival US arms companies.
This story offered to the citizens true about how their money is being spent for so called military development. The supposed anti-corruption mechanism weren’t really applied and digging deeper into projects has shown how fair competence wasn’t assured and “the European military industry is like a Russian doll” where companies own companies that own companies.
The story was originally published by the European media outlet Investigate Europe and its partners infoLibre in Spain and Publico in Portugal. Besides that, story was republished in various media outlets in different countries, such as in Poland (https://frontstory.pl/wojsko-unia-europejska-ue-arma-nato-rosja/), Hungary (https://telex.hu/komplex/2022/03/29/nobel-bekedijtol-a-fegyverexportig-az-eu-militarizacioja), Italy (https://valori.it/industria-militare-europea-fondi-usa/).

Techniques/technologies used:

OSINT – this is how we started, by researching all available information about the topic we were looking into and identified where the data we need lays. And it was not just for the data, using OSINT technique led us to a lot of findings and information that we needed to build the story, to put the data in context, to identify all the problematic dots in the big EU defence development projects.

Scraping with RStudio – once the data has been identified, some of it was suitable for scraping, so we collected one part of the data by scraping it with R programming language.

Collecting data from all possible sources – for the data that we didn’t feel secure to scrape, to avoid any possible mistakes, we were collecting it manually. We were building excel databases from carefully collected data from the reliable sources on the web.

Data analysis in RStudio which has led to conclusions that actually made the story – by using the R programming language, we were able to clean data, to analyse it and to make draft visualizations to see what it actually shows.

We used Flourish for data visualizations in our story, choosing carefully the best ways to present different kinds of data – the graphs were talking themselves, but we needed explanations and comments from the experts from the field.

Interviewing experts – we were looking for different kinds of experts to analyse and comment on our findings, including experts for competition, for complex ownership structures, for finances and the ones that should be taking care actually of the whole thing described.

Context about the project:

In the sense of political context, just a month before this story was published, Russia attacked Ukraine and the war in Europe has started. Military issue has become topic more important than ever. And still, so many holes haven’t been reported. Instead of reporting only on single deals or exports, we wanted to catch the full scope, to measure this arms business in its full size and to clearly identify who has been profiting from money intended for military development of Europe. Identifying the concrete players, companies that won the biggest share of the fund allocated, actually led to discovering the whole network that has been profiting by securing most of the money for these military development projects in the EU.

And data was there. It was all around, on the EU websites, on companies websites, on websites with market data. The crucial was to pull all that data and to analyse it piece by piece. And once we have put all those pieces together, we got the puzzle that revealed the network of the biggest players in arms market.

Innovative technologies that we applied while working on this story were scraping data at the very beginning, and present it in the modern way using the most suitable data visualization form that Flourish has developed for so many different ways to present the data in the best possible shape.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

First thing – power of data is unimaginable in any area that can cross your mind.

Secondly — keep digging as far as possible.

Third but crucial part – when team is good, teamwork is priceless. Combining different skills of three journalists was really powerful and inspirative because at every stage, one of us could see a step forward and that’s why we came to the story much deeper and way further than we planned at the beginning and than we actually expected.

Questioning each other in different stages was empowering the story itself, by brainstorming and factchecking during the work process. Although we are all journalists with financial expertise, all of us came with some kind of different skills, and combining data skills, financial skills, identifying right things and finding reputable professional people to interview, it all lead to this story which we have built from the root and by going further every time showed us the real story that had to be revealed and told.

Project links: