22 Explosive Investigations We Published In 2016

Match-fixing in tennis. Patients locked on the psych ward. Donald Trump walking into the dressing room of teenage beauty queens. A global supercourt bending entire nations to its will. From bankers destroying small businesses for profit, to detectives who didn’t investigate reports of rape, to a woman freed from prison because of BuzzFeed News, here are our biggest 2016 investigations.

1. The Tennis Racket — Heidi Blake and John Templon

Matt Chase for BuzzFeed News

Betting worth billions. Elite players. Violent threats. Covert messages with Sicilian gamblers. And suspicious matches at Wimbledon. Leaked files exposed match-fixing evidence that tennis authorities kept secret for years. A collaboration between the BBC and BuzzFeed News.

The Italian Job

BuzzFeed News and the BBC, in collaboration with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, obtained a huge cache of investigative files showing that prosecutors in the Italian city of Cremona had amassed evidence of “worldwide” fixing, including voluminous internet chat logs in which the ringleader plotted to corrupt players. Prosecutors said they handed that evidence over to world tennis authorities — but that it was ignored.

2. The Traffic Ticket Machine — Alex Campbell and Kendall Taggart

Scott Dalton for BuzzFeed News

Turbocharged surveillance technology turned Officer Rickey Antoine into a policing juggernaut. The city of Port Arthur says his approach to traffic safety saves lives. But some of the city’s poorest residents are paying the price. In 2015, we reported on how in Texas it’s a crime to be poor and on how Texas sends poor teens to adult jail for skipping school.

3. UN Accused Of Allowing Assad Regime To Censor Syria Aid Plan — Jane Bradley

Reuters / Getty / Lynzy Billing / BuzzFeed

References to besieged towns such as Madaya were deleted from a key aid plan after consultation with the regime.

4. Welcome to America, Now Spy on Your Friends — Talal Ansari and Siraj Datoo

Adam Maida for BuzzFeed News

When Muslim immigrants apply to become citizens, they often find the process delayed for years without explanation. Then, when they are at wit’s end, they get a visit from the FBI, with an offer they don’t dare refuse.

5. Unmasked: Members Of The Brutal ISIS “Beatles” cell — Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes

Getty / Supplied to BuzzFeed News

One member of the exceptionally bloody cell was described as a “quiet and humble” Londoner. We reported this story together with the Washington Post. Another cell member, also found together with the Washington Post, was a “kind and softly spoken” fairground mechanic.

My Son, The ISIS Executioner

In a heartrending profile, our reporter Jane Bradley talked to a mother about losing both her “perfect” sons to ISIS.

6. The Queen’s Grandson Set Up A Charity That Gave His Own Firm The Contract To Arrange Her Birthday Party — Tom Warren and Laura Silver

Wpa Pool / Getty Images

Peter Phillips, the son of Princess Anne, has stepped down as a trustee of the Patron’s Fund after it awarded his own company the contract to arrange celebrations for an undisclosed fee. Later we revealed that the fund was given a “red” risk rating by the Charity Commission because Phillips’s for-profit company stood to benefit from the event’s £4 million income.

7. Britain’s National Crime Agency Helped Get Two Men Sentenced To Death In Thailand — Tom Warren

Lynzy Billing / BuzzFeed / Jerome Taylor / AFP / Alamy Stock Photo / Supplied

The elite crime-fighting force secretly assisted the Royal Thai Police with a controversial murder investigation that put two Burmese migrants on death row — despite government rules designed to stop British law enforcement from contributing to capital punishment convictions overseas. And that was far from the only problem BuzzFeed News uncovered at the NCA. After BuzzFeed News exposed in 2015 that three major cases had collapsed because the NCA had used illegal warrants, the police agency admitted it may have been searching properties and seizing evidence unlawfully for almost a decade because of glaring “systemic” failings.

8. Donald Trump’s Most Prominent Conflict Of Interest — Aram Roston and Daniel Wagner

AP Images

Early in the presidential campaign, we wrote the definitive story on Trump’s new Washington, DC, luxury hotel, located in the Old Post Office, a neo-Romanesque architectural gem owned by the taxpayers. We showed that he won the lease largely because of two grand promises — but that once he got the nod from the government, he reversed himself on both commitments. Now that he has been elected president, Trump is in the position of overseeing his own landlord, the federal General Services Administration.

Trump Gave His Kids A Big Stake In Huge Government Deal, Document Shows

Later, we wrested a document from the government showing that Trump gave nearly 22% of the hotel project — for free — to Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.

Trump Company Kept Two Sets Of Financial Numbers, Testimony Shows

We obtained testimony by a Trump financial analyst who said that Trump’s kept an internal set of numbers for the Washington, DC, hotel. “And then there are other projections where, you know, we’re pitching to a lender or an equity source, where it’s rosier,” the analyst said in a deposition.

Trump’s Post-Election Tax Subsidy

Just six days after he won the election, Trump got new approval for a massive tax subsidy for his luxury DC hotel.

9. The Pushovers: Employers Abuse Foreign Workers. U.S. Says, By All Means, Hire More — Ken Bensinger, Jessica Garrison, and Jeremy Singer-Vine

BuzzFeed News; Getty

In 2015, BuzzFeed News exposed how America’s guest worker program puts foreign workers into virtual slavery and deprives Americans of jobs. The federal government is supposed to oversee employers to prevent such abuses. But we found that there is almost no workplace offense so extreme — even stealing workers' wages or threatening their lives — that the US government will not reward employers with the chance to do it again.

10. How Trump Tried To Get Qaddafi’s Cash — Daniel Wagner and Aram Roston

AP Photo; Getty Images

Overlooking terrorism that killed Americans, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Donald Trump sought investment partnerships with Muammar al-Qaddafi and the Libyan regime. He rented his Westchester estate to the dictator, tried to set up a face-to-face meeting, and took the Libyan ambassador golfing. That was only one story about how Trump did business. We also examined an island resort that Trump promised to save (but didn’t). A fancy golf club in Puerto Rico was hemorrhaging money, but Trump had a plan. That’s when things got really bad.

11. The French Connection: How Paris Police Closed In On David Cameron’s Biggest Donor — Heidi Blake, Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes

Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu Agency / Getty / Thinkstock / i-images / Alamy / BuzzFeed

After BuzzFeed News revealed telecom company Lycamobile’s “deeply suspicious” cash movements in 2015, 19 people were arrested and nine of them charged with money laundering.

12. Sources: Donald Trump Listened In On Phone Lines At Mar-A-Lago — Aram Roston

Matt Rourke / AP

Trump had a phone console near his bed that could connect to every phone in his lavish Florida estate, which doubles as a private club for paying guests. Several workers said Trump used the equipment to secretly listen in on phone calls in the mid-2000s. Later, we went inside Trump’s surveillance operations. His little-known home near Washington, DC, has security cameras inside and outside, monitored from New York, according to insiders. Politicians have stayed there for “safe haven.” Surveillance equipment, including license plate readers, is ubiquitous throughout his Trump National Golf Club.

13. Obama’s Interrogation Methods — Ali Watkins and Aram Roston

BuzzFeed News

Right after he took office, Barack Obama promised to do away with torture. But documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show for the first time how a harsh interrogation tactic thrived on his watch in Afghanistan. Human rights advocates said it could be inhumane and illegal. In another story, BuzzFeed News found that Gen. David Petraeus helped block the autopsy of a Afghan man who died in US custody. A coroner found that the detainee’s treatment while in American hands contributed to his death, yet Petraeus and other top officials blocked an autopsy that could have determined whether he had been abused by US troops.

14. Trump Seeks More Foreign Guest Workers For His Companies — Jessica Garrison, Jeremy Singer-Vine, and Ken Bensinger

Katie Orlinsky for BuzzFeed News

Despite campaigning to restore American jobs, Trump sought to bring in 78 foreigners for jobs at his Mar-a-Lago estate and a Florida golf course. And his or his family’s companies kept seeking more workers — again and again. Yet Trump’s Florida clubs were absent from job fairs to hire US workers.

Meet The Workers Who Sewed Donald Trump Clothing For A Few Dollars A Day — Karla Zabludovsky and Daniel Wagner

Employees at a textile factory made Trump shirts — and reported dangerous, abusive conditions that they said were harsh even for Honduras. And on Amazon, Trump suits were advertised as “Made in the USA” and imported. We found out how the claims measure up.

15. The Court That Ruled The World — by Chris Hamby

Mike McQuade for BuzzFeed News

A parallel legal universe, open only to corporations and largely invisible to everyone else, helps executives convicted of crimes escape punishment. Part one of a four-part BuzzFeed News investigation.

The Billion-Dollar Ultimatum

International corporations that want to intimidate countries have access to a private legal system designed just for them. And to unlock its power, and force countries to surrender billions or gut their laws, sometimes all it takes is the mere threat of legal action. Part two.

“Let’s Make Them Poorer, And We’ll Get Rich”

Financial companies have figured out how to turn a controversial global legal system to their own very profitable advantage. Part three.

A Homegrown Disaster

A secretive global legal system gives corporations leverage over the countries where they operate. Everyone said the United States didn’t have anything to worry about, because American laws are fair to begin with. Everyone was wrong. Part four.

16. Unfounded: When Detectives Dismiss Rape Reports Before Investigating Them — Alex Campbell and Katie Baker

Post Typography for BuzzFeed News

Across the country, some police departments claim that a vast number of rape reports are false. A BuzzFeed News investigation into a year of “unfounded” rapes in Baltimore County reveals that detectives often don’t investigate them at all — even when the man had been arrested for rape before.

17. Free At Last — Alex Campbell

Ilana Panich-Linsman for BuzzFeed News

Across the country, women are locked up for decades because their children were abused — not by the women themselves but by their boyfriends or husbands. A 2014 BuzzFeed News investigation has now helped one of those women win her freedom. This is her story.

18. The Dash For Cash: Leaked Files Reveal RBS Systematically Crushed British Businesses For Profit — Heidi Blake, Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes

Alex Williamson for BuzzFeed News; Bloomberg; Getty; Redux

The RBS Files expose the huge bank’s secret scheme to boost revenues during the financial crisis by draining British businesses of cash and stripping their assets, blowing apart its previous statements to the public and parliament. In a second story, BuzzFeed News exposed emails showing that ahead of a share firesale, the treasury had obtained confidential information. “This information is not in the public domain and we would be grateful if you could ensure it is kept confidential.”

19. Teen Beauty Queens Say Donald Trump Walked In On Them Changing — Kendall Taggart, Jessica Garrison, and Jessica Testa

Bobby Bank / WireImage

“Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.” Later, a fifth teen beauty queen also said Trump visited the dressing room. He barged in on adult dressing rooms, too. “I sort of get away with things like that,” he said.

20. The Secret Prison Corruption Epidemic The British Government Doesn’t Want You To Know About — Richard Holmes

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

Corrupt officers are smuggling hard drugs, phones, and weapons to inmates — fueling a rise in violence inside HMP Pentonville and other prisons across Britain — but the authorities don’t want you to know about it.

21. Intake — Rosalind Adams

Nicolas Ortega for BuzzFeed News

Lock them in. Bill their insurer. Kick them out. How scores of employees and patients say America’s largest psychiatric chain turns patients into profits.

22. The True Story Behind The Biggest Fake News Hit Of The Election — Craig Silverman and Jeremy Singer-Vine

BuzzFeed News; Getty

Fake news became one of 2016’s most important and disturbing developments. In this story, we found a network of over 40 sites that have published more than 750 fake news stories. We also conducted a sweeping analysis that showed hyperpartisan Facebook Pages were publishing false and misleading information at an alarming rate. And we commissioned a survey that found most Americans who see fake news believe it.


This post has been updated to include the investigation, "Welcome to America, Now Spy on Your Friends."