Alex Winter's behind-the-scenes story of how an international consortium of journalists broke the story of the Panama Papers plays like a compulsive thriller.
Nick Holdsworth
Journalist, writer, author, filmmaker and film and TV industry expert – Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
Email: holdsworth.nick@gmail.com
Published date: February 25, 2019

The Panama Papers – the story of how a small team of investigative journalists from a German newspaper stumbled across the scoop of a lifetime, and then shared it with hundreds of other reporters worldwide – is compulsive viewing.

As compelling as a police procedural, Alex Winter’s documentary plays like a thriller where the tensions builds slowly but surely to a spate of arrests and the downfall of (some of) the high and mighty exposed in a massive leak of material from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

This is a film that exposes the multi-billion global business in tax evasion, systematic legal abuses and the corruption of lawyers, bankers and politicians in effecting what the anonymous whistle-blower ‘John Doe’ (whose words are voiced by actor Elijah Wood) says is still called  «capitalism, but it is tantamount to economic slavery.»

The sheer scale of lost tax revenues – more than $200 billion a year in the US and major Western countries alone – helps explain why the past few decades have been so kind to the extremely wealthy, the top 1 per cent of whom now own more than the combined assets of the other 99 per cent.

This is a film that reveals the obscene human cost of the greed and effective theft from the public purse, the poverty and wasted creative potential of billions.

It is a film that should be shown in every favela, shantytown, village, town and city square across the world. It deserves the widest possible release and international television peak time slots.

The Panama Papers also highlights the invaluable role of public service journalism in an age where right-wing forces of darkness are desperately pushing a ‘post-fact’ agenda where ‘truth’ is deemed to no longer have any meaning or value.

Money laundering for high profiled politicians and clients

The source of The Panama Papers leak was a hitherto obscure law firm, Mossack Fonseca, founded in 1977, that ran on a simple and obscenely profitable principal: its business was secrecy: for as little as $1,000 you could buy a shell company offshore, run it through nominee directors and then through a complex series of loans and exchanges between various shell companies in different locations, hide the true owners of billions in cash and assets.

It is a film that should be shown in every favela, shantytown, village, town and city square across the world.

Mossack Fonesca facilitated tax avoidance and money laundering for clients that included Russian President Putin‘s best friend, Syrian President Bashar al-Asaad, Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his Icelandic counterpart, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson.

The unwelcome attention of the Panama Papers leak helped bring down Sharif and Gunnlaugsson, whose tipping point screened in all its glory in Winter’s film – comes when he storms out in a huff after being put on the spot as a television camera runs.

Others who suffered from the superb reporting of a team that grew to over 370 journalists across the globe, included British Prime Minister David Cameron, who lied about benefitting from an offshore family company and resigned from office shortly after British voters narrowly opted for Leave in the EU ‘Brexit‘ referendum of 2016.

The Panama Papers Director: Alex Winter
The Panama Papers. Director: Alex Winter

The Panama Papers helped bring down the corrupt president of Brazil and sparked widespread public anger in Venezuela. Neither country has fared well since: last autumn Brazilians elected a right-wing demagogue who had declared war on drug dealers and the environment (along with the rights of indigenous tribes people); Venezuela’s inept socialist President Nicolás Maduro is standing firm against an internationally-backed attempt to force him from office.

Eight billionaires now own as much wealth as the poorest half of the earth’s population.

Maltese blogger and investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was not part of The Panama Papers investigative team, but still exposed the alleged corruption of the EU island state’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, died in October 2017 when a explosion ripped through the car she was driving.

Part of the problem is that the endemic corruption that has created a world in which eight billionaires now own as much wealth as the poorest half of the earth’s population, effectively ‘own’ the political leaders of most nations.

The true low-life criminals, as Alex Winter’s film amply shows, are the hugely wealthy and corrupt public figures, bankers, lawyers and financiers.

People distrust politicians as never before and in their confusion are turning to populist politicians whose lies offer easy answers and simple scapegoats: migrants, establishment politicians, low-life criminals.

The true low-life criminals, as Alex Winter’s film amply shows, are the hugely wealthy and corrupt public figures, bankers, lawyers and financiers, who make up the new global system of «enforced economic slavery».

The vanguard of the 21st transition is coming

A century ago Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik party seized power in Russia and sought, through the Soviet Union, to deliver a Marxist answer to the ills of 19th Century capitalism. The product of a brilliant mind, vitiated by egotistical and bitter envy, Soviet Communism failed precisely because it was the product of the mind, of the ego.

The Panama Papers. Director: Alex Winter

The vanguard of the 21st transition that is coming, in response to the ills of late 20th century capitalism and globalism – is a product of the heart, as witnessed in the spontaneous demonstrations now breaking out among the very young. Kids in their early teens protest against climate change, political corruption and other ills across Europe.

These are youngsters appalled by the lies and inaction of their elders, who are casting a new frequency of light on the evils of a very slender, and yet very wealthy, slice of the generation of their parents and grandparents.

Billionaire neo-liberals worldwide know their days are numbered; and as Winter’s film hints at in its closing minutes, driven by their grasping greed and unconscionable evil, they are unlikely to relinquish their squalid lifestyle without causing yet more destruction and devastation.


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Modern Times Review