Netflix released its movie about the Panama Papers on October 18th, and while fictional versions of Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca narrate the story of the movie to “tell their side”, the real-life Mossack and Fonseca are suing Netflix for defamation.
Mossack and Fonseca are the two lawyers who founded and ran the law firm Mossack Fonseca out of Panama. Their law firm controlled the finances for companies for people all over the world. These are known as offshore accounts, and while they are legal, the Panama Papers revealed that some of the companies allegedly held by the law firm existed only on paper and did not produce or sell anything. These are known as shell corporations and they were allegedly used by Mossack Fonseca’s clients to hide illegal dealings, such as fraud and evading international sanctions, as well as evading taxes.
In Netflix’s movie, “The Laundromat”, both Mossack and Fonseca insist their law firm holds so many companies they don’t even know what each of them does, thereby insisting they are innocent of any crimes their clients may have committed.
The movie then follows some of their clients through a selection of their illegal dealings and how they used the law firm Mossack Fonseca to avoid consequences for the illegal and/or immoral things they did in their day-to-day lives. Their alleged crimes cover everything from bribery to murder, all allegedly covered up with the help of shell companies created and held by Mossack Fonseca.
The end of the movie shows both Mossack and Fonseca going to jail after an unidentified individual leaked more than 11 million documents revealing personal financial information about the law firm’s clients, including their illegal goings-on and the ways in which the law firm acted to protect those illegal actions. Those papers quickly became known as the Panama Papers, although the identity of the whistleblower still has not been revealed.
Mossack and Fonseca both spent three months in jail, a slap on the wrist considering all the crimes their law firm allegedly helped cover-up. But the movie hardly covers the extent of their legal troubles.
In fact, part of the reason for Mossack and Fonseca to file their defamation lawsuit against Netflix is because they believe, not just that the movie casts them in a negative light, but that it has the potential to influence ongoing lawsuits against them related to information revealed in the Panama Papers.
The movie was released on Netflix’s streaming platform on October 18th after a limited theater release. Mossack and Fonseca were hoping to stop Netflix from releasing the movie to a wider audience on its streaming platform, but they were unable to do so before the release date. Whether they will be able to succeed in having the movie removed from Netflix’s streaming options has yet to be seen.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Connecticut, but the day before the movie was released, a judge determined that was not the best venue for it and had the case moved to a federal court in the Los Angeles area.
Netflix has argued that, despite being based on true events, the movie is not a documentary, and as such, they are allowed creative license in telling the story any way they want.
Lubin Austermuehle’s defamation and slander lawyers near Glen Ellyn and Addison have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state defamation, libel and slander laws. We assist businesses and owners who are the victims of defamatory and slanderous attacks on their businesses and reputations.
You can read the Court’s entire opinion here.
Our Kane County defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites’ information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. You can view a federal court decision where we prevailed in a libel per se claim asserting the innocent infringer defense here. Here you can find an arbitration decision where we successfully defended our client’s right to post negative opinions on YouTube about a used car dealer. We recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit concerning our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16,000,000.00 defamation per se suit in federal district court.
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