Panama papers lawyers sue Netflix over film portrayal

The two partners of the offshore specialist law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers leak have launched a defamation action against Netflix over a film made about the scandal, which is scheduled to be distributed on 18 October


Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, who headed up the now dissolved Panamanian law firm, have brought a libel and trademark infringement lawsuit against Netflix over a film called The Laundromat and are also seeking to halt its release, due today.

The film, directed by Steven Soderbergh, stars Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas as the two lawyers at the firm, which was at the centre of a scandal involving the leak of over one million confidential files about the use of offshore tax havens. Meryl Streep and Sharon Stone also feature in the story of a widow, played by Streep, who loses her husband in a boat accident and then investigates a fraud, unravelling a complex web of international transactions.

According to the complaint, made in the US district court for the district of Connecticut, the film portrays Mossack and Fonseca as ‘ruthless uncaring lawyers who are involved in money laundering, tax evasion, bribery and/or other criminal conduct.’

The pair say that in the opening credits, several screens appear asking the question ‘how do 15 million millionaires in 200 countries stay rich . . . [answer] with lawyers like these,’ followed by a screen shot of Oldman and Banderas laughing ‘sinisterly’.

The lawsuit states: ‘The implications and innuendo converge to cast plaintiffs in the light of mastermind criminals whose crimes include, but are not limited to, murder, bribery, money laundering and/or corruption.’

Their complaint also alleges the company logo is infringed by being used in scenes ‘that allow the viewer to associate it with very serious criminal and unethical behavior’.

In addition, Mossack and Fonseca state that as they  are the subjects of an FBI investigation that could result in a trial in the US, ‘the false “Big Screen” portrayal of their involvement in money laundering and/or other financial crimes poses an immediate threat and harm to the plaintiffs’ fair trial rights here.’  They also voice concerns that the Panamanian authorities could increase the scope of their investigations, based on the false premise that the two lawyers were involved in other activities including ‘cartel murders or Russian gangster money laundering’ which they claim the film portrays and which they strongly deny.

The Laundromat has premiered at the Venice and Toronto film festivals and is set to launch around the world on Netflix on October 18.
Netflix has filed a separate legal challenge asking for the case to be dismissed or transferred to a California court. 

Details of the Mossack and Fonseca lawsuit against Netflix are here.

By Pat Sweet

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