On April 3rd, 2016, the worlds of politics and finance were rocked with the shocking release of 11.5 million documents leaked by an anonymous source connected to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, known as The Panama Papers. The millions of documents leaked by John Doe indicted several international public figures, including former British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Barcelona football mega-star Lionel Messi, and many many more of the ultra-wealthy from all corners of the world. Their crimes included money laundering, shell companies, and all the stuff we see in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street.
Alex Winter is at the helm of the eponymous film that aims to show the human story of one of the largest journalistic investigations in history. The papers were originally leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) along with a manifesto from John Doe, citing economic inequality as their reasoning for bringing these documents to the media. The journalists at SZ, including Bastian Obermayer, thought long and hard about what to do with this information. They ended up contacting the International Consortium of International Journalists for help in the matter. The story was so massive that an equally large team was needed to dig through the millions of documents to find incriminating information.
“…the shocking release of 11.5 million documents leaked…connected to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, known as The Panama Papers.”
As one could imagine, the subjects of this investigation were, shall we say, less than thrilled upon discovering their information was leaked resulting in a lot of backpedaling and denials. Unfortunately, a lot of the journalists involved were ostracized, threatened, intimidated, and in one case, killed. A blogger named Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed by a car bomb in October 2017, when she went after the Maltese High Official Konrad Mizzi and his family. The police had a convenient story as to how this happened, but we are led to believe that this was a cover-up.
The overarching reach of The Panama Papers was so phenomenally complicated that the investigation is still going on two years later, leading to international pandemonium. The day after I saw The Panama Papers at Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, a new scandal came to light about a massive money laundering scheme involving German banking institution, Deutsche Bank. Even today, in the news, we are discovering that Trump has holdings in Deutsche Bank that could tie him to the corruption as well. I doubt anyone will be surprised if that proves to be true.
I honestly want to re-watch The Panama Papers at least one more time, if not several, to get a bigger grasp on the global corruption exposed. This behemoth of a story involves the biggest baddies from all four corners of the globe. Due to the worldwide prevalence of kleptocracy in our current political and financial environments, these influential figures feel emboldened to keep up their nefarious antics, to the detriment of ordinary citizens who pay their taxes and aren’t greedy sociopaths.
“…hundreds of journalists from around the world were able to work together to expose this corruption, despite the consequences, and their egos.”
The most critical element of Winter’s documentary is not the scandal itself, but the fact that hundreds of journalists from around the world were able to work together to expose this corruption, despite the consequences, and their egos. Let’s not get it twisted; writers love commendations, so to be able to put aside that urge towards vainglorious self-promotion for the greater good is impressive (although it probably shouldn’t be).
The journalists behind the Panama Papers sacrificed more than that though. A lot of these journalists’ safety is still at risk. Staffers at a Panamanian paper are losing friends who were personally involved with Mossack Fonseca and are under immense scrutiny. People have died and maybe more will, but the important thing is that this is one small step in stomping out corruption. Who knows if it will ever happen for good, but Alex Winter shows us in his documentary that there are still people out there willing to try to make the world a better place, which, in times like these, is often the best we can hope for. Please check out The Panama Papers; it is available on Epix!
The Panama Papers (2018) Written and Directed by Alex Winter.
9 out of 10 stars