The Panama Papers, which revealed corruption on an international scale, have largely been overshadowed by Donald Trump’s serial scandals, sex payoffs, possible Russia collusion and unprecedented self-enrichment. But not for long. The papers are going Hollywood.
More than 11 million confidential documents, involving lawyer-client communications, were leaked in 2016 from the international law firm of Mossack Fonseca.
The papers detailed how dictators, oligarchs and the world’s wealthiest individuals used shell corporations, off-shore accounts and other means to launder or hide money, evading tens of millions of dollars in taxes.
Panama Papers: Secret World
The documents revealed a previously unseen world of financial secrecy and tax fraud tied to leaders in Iceland and Pakistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
The scope of the scandal was so large, it made it difficult to comprehend, and it quickly faded from the news cycle, overshadowed by Trump’s almost daily foibles.
But dogged investigators have continued to unravel the complex web of corporations and shell companies nestled in off-shore tax havens. In late November, the U.S. government indicted four men tied to the law firm, setting the stage for other likely indictments.
Filmmakers have also seized on the scandal and will hopefully bring it back out of the shadows. Documentarian Alex Winter has written and directed an examination of the scandal titled “The Panama Papers.”
It focuses on the global corruption, its history and “the hundreds of journalists who risked their lives to break the story,” according to a synopsis. Winter’s previous work has focused on such subjects as bitcoin and Trump’s election.
The film was released two weeks ago.
Netflix is also producing a movie by the same name. It focuses on two journalists who were instrumental in bringing the scandal to light.
Panama Papers: Going Hollywood
In yet another project, Meryl Streep is starring in Panama Papers drama “The Laundromat,” helmed by famed director Steven Soderbergh, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The last teamed up on “The Post,” about the release of a secret history of the Vietnam War.
The Soderbergh film is based on Jack Bernstein’s book: “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite.” Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas are also expected to star.
That may give the scandal the glamour quotient it needs to spark more international attention and much needed reforms.
“I think what the Panama Papers did that perhaps hadn’t been done before is that it really laid out the machinations of how these systems work in such a clear-cut way,” Winter told ThinkProgress, a news and information site founded by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
“It was the first absolutely soup-to-nuts exposé of this system, that I think it really showed how systemic the problem is — how it really is the economy itself, not just some players operating operating on their own terrain,” he said.
The off-shore financial industry not only provides a haven for despots and tax cheats to hide money, but also allows international criminal organizations to launder illicit gains.
“If you’re a dentist in southern France or Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad or the prime minister of Pakistan. Whether you’re the head of state or an average Joe, the mechanisms are pretty much the same,” Winter says.
“It’s not about people taking just a few deductions — they’re taking actual resources, and siphoning resources out of your country.”
Panama Papers: U.S. Role
Many in this country might find it ironic that the United States is considered one of the largest off-shore tax havens in the world. States such as Wyoming, Nevada and Delaware are a haven for shell companies.
In fact, Trump lawyer and reputed fixer Michael Cohen set up a shell corporation in Delaware to funnel money to porn star Stormy Daniels, in an attempt to shield Trump.
The U.S. is also reticent to give foreign governments access to American bank accounts, and is the model for financial secrecy that other countries have followed, according to Winter.
“You didn’t see giant American names in the Panama Papers, and it didn’t take down governments here — but much of that is because our laws allow people to hide that much better. If you’re in the U.S., you don’t have to go to Mossack Fonseca to do that,” he told the news organization.
Panama Papers: Trump Connection
Meanwhile, the worldwide repercussions continue. German investigators raided Deutsche Bank, based on information provided by the Panama Papers, which may shed light on Trump’s dealings with the rogue bank.
Trump’s and the Trump Organization’s dealing with Deutsche Bank were detailed in Money & Power a year ago in February.
“The Deutsche Bank thing was interesting, because I’ve been telling people all along that this is a very, very deep leak that is going to take years to work through,” Winter says. “There’s a lot more coming down the pike.”
Check out the trailer for his film below.