U.S. prosecutors are investigating the founders of offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca, it’s claimed in court documents freshly filed in a bid to prevent Netflix from releasing its star-studded film The Laundromat this week.
Panama-based lawyers Ramón Fonseca and Jürgen Mossack are the subjects of a probe in New York involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to an affidavit by a private investigator working to help the duo.
The pair, partners in the offshore law firm whose confidential files were exposed in the Panama Papers, are suing Netflix for defamation over the film, in which they are played respectively by Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman.
Private investigator Arthur Ventura Jr states in an affidavit to the Connecticut District Court that “in his opinion” Mossack and Fonseca “are not only targets of a federal investigation” but are also subject to U.S. prosecutors’ positions “that both men serve a sentence of incarceration.”
“If Netflix’s movie and the false innuendo expressed therein is permitted into the viewing home of millions of its subscribers, the plaintiffs would be severely hindered in any attempt at a comeback,” Ventura Jr says. Separately, an attorney for Mossack and Fonseca wrote that releasing the film may make it difficult for the pair to obtain a fair trial in the United States.
In reply, Netflix asked the court on Tuesday to dismiss the claim, including on the grounds that the film has little to no connection to Connecticut. Officials at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
The Laundromat is inspired by the 2016 Panama Papers investigation and based on reporter Jake Bernstein’s book of the same name (previously known as Secrecy World). The film, which also stars Meryl Streep, premiered at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.
Filed on Tuesday, the court action came just days before Netflix is scheduled to stream The Laundromat on Friday. Mossack and Fonseca have asked a Connecticut judge to stop Netflix from showing the film in cinemas or releasing it to subscribers without a disclaimer that the duo have never been convicted of a crime and without approval to use the former law firm’s logo.
They allege that Netflix’s 2019 film “defames and portrays” them “as ruthless, uncaring lawyers who are involved in money laundering, tax evasion, bribery and/or other criminal conduct.”
The filings also allege that closeups from the film’s trailer of Oldman and Banderas “easily attribute criminal and negative innuendo.” (Watch the trailer here. )
The complaint also alleges that Mossack, Fonseca and the law firm are portrayed as having a connection to crimes committed by a Latin American drug cartel, a Russian gangster and a wealthy African mogul.
“The implications and innuendo converge to cast Plaintiffs in light of mastermind criminals whose crimes include, but are not limited to, murder, bribery, money laundering and/or corruption,” according to the claim.
The 2016 Panama Papers investigation centered on 11.5 million records leaked from Mossack Fonseca that revealed how politicians, business leaders, celebrities and criminals operated through hard-to-trace shell companies in tax havens.
The investigation, a collaboration of almost 400 journalists from 80 countries, led to the resignation of prime ministers, criminal charges in Latin America and Europe and to governments from Australia to Iceland recovering more than $1.2 billion in unpaid taxes and penalties.
Mossack and Fonseca deny wrongdoing. The law firm closed in 2018.
In the United States, prosecutors have charged two former Mossack Fonseca employees, a U.S.-based accountant and a former U.S. taxpayer with financial crimes as a result of the investigation. In Panama, Mossack and Fonseca are fighting at least two charges brought by the country’s prosecutor.
Mossack and Fonseca fear that U.S. prosecutors could hit the duo with additional charges “for each new crime imputed to them in the movie,” according to the new filings. “The false ‘Big Screen’ portrayal of their involvement in money laundering and/or other financial crimes poses an immediate threat and harm” to their right to a fair trial, wrote the duo’s lawyer.