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Netflix Releases Its Panama Papers Movie as Mossack Fonseca Lawyers Try to Shut It Down

— October 18, 2019

Netflix said the founders of Mossack Fonseca had already lost whatever reputations they were afraid to see damaged from “The Laundromat’s” release.

On Friday, Netflix defied corporate lawyers and released “The Laundromat,” a film based off the Panama Papers leak.

The movie, notes The New York Times, stars Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas and Meryl Streep. Despite a limited release in select theaters, it’s main outlet is Netflix, a popular web-streaming service.

But the movie is based on true events. The Panama Papers—leaked in 2015—constitute over 10 million documents. Most of the leaked papers detail personal finances and payments to and from wealthy individuals and organizations. Along with showing simple transfers and investments, they evidenced attempts to hide money, launder finances and evade tax authorities.

Panamanian corporate services provider Mossack Fonseca played an integral role in the scandal, using its resources to set up shell corporations for many of its clients.

Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.
Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.

In “The Laundromat,” Oldman and Banderas play the company’s eponymous founders—Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca.

Attorneys for the two quickly sued Netflix after learning of the film’s intent. They say that “The Laundromat” portrays Mossack and Fonseca as “ruthless uncaring lawyers who are involved in money laundering, tax evasion, bribery, and/or other criminal conduct.”

The lawsuit’s aim, says The New York Times, was to prevent or otherwise interrupt the film’s expected release.

However, Netflix was quick to defend itself. In court, it called the maneuver a “virtually unheard-of prior restrain on free speech.” Netflix also stressed that the film—while “based on some real shit”—never portrays itself as a completely non-fictional account of the Panama Papers scandal. It is, rather, a “comedic morality tale about a system which invites and protects abuse.”

“While entertaining and largely comedic,” Netflix said, “it is intended to bring attention to the abuse of offshore shell corporations and tax shelters, and it is an indictment of the legal system that permits them.”

Netflix also argued that their renditions of Mossack and Fonseca—while based on real people—are unequivocally and “palpably farcical characters.”

“They are cartoonish narrators who set up shell corporations around the world,” Netflix argued. “[The film] does not depict them as direct participants in criminal activity.

“Rather, the film saves its pointed critiques for the opacity of the global banking system and the systematic corruption of wealthy individuals that permit that system to perpetuate itself.”

Netflix noted that whatever damage “The Laundromat” might cause to Mossack and Fonseca’s reputations is not significant compared to the sort of negative media attention they’ve endured for the past three years.

“Clearly, [their] reputations were sullied long before the release of [The Laundromat],” Netflix said.


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