Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard review — a case of financial hubris

By Marc Miller
Published: September 17, 2022 (Last updated: February 17, 2024)
Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard review —a case of financial hubris


Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard is a fascinating case study on financial hubris.

This review of the Netflix documentary film Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard does not contain spoilers.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Act was passed, making it illegal for foreign-owned companies to target Americans on gambling websites. This happens to be a company called Wirecard’s bread and butter. Over half of the online poker population came from the United States. Yet, Wirecard’s profits still went up instead of down. Now, unless this company found a way to target third-world populations without internet (they did), Buddhist monks (not yet), or Nuns across thousands of convents across Europe (at some point), the German company has some explaining to do. That’s what Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard is all about in a sense — a modern-day digital house of cards that comes tumbling down quickly.

Director James Erskine (Billie) draws the connections between a team of Financial Times reporters, mainly a journalist named Dan McCrum. There were also financial experts in betting against booming companies’ success which helped guide him through the process. It’s a labyrinth of spider webs laundering money for shady figures and organizations, proving the fraudulent actions of Wirecard and their methods. For instance, the German company would outsource shell companies to a small town in England. When they later moved to United States soil and were based in New York City, they offered more fronts in a small town in Pennsylvania, always attempting to keep their hands clean.

There is even a hilarious bit of just labeling things uniquely not to raise suspicion. When anyone paid for pornography, it was labeled “Emotional Content.” It’s a fascinating case, as these criminals found crack after crack in the system (the story of how they avoided the IPO is particularly intriguing) and used complex schemes to hide helping any merchant transferring money through digital transactions. And as simple as prepaid cash cards to launder money between criminals. It’s all straightforward, elegant, and fruitful. Accept there is no amount of loopholes or footnote accounts that can hide these transactions. Not long-term anyway, even if Wirecard was now part of the DAX index.

Erskine’s film toes the line of a scintillating documentary that plays out like a thriller. You’ll see and hear stories of wiretapping, private investigators, offering up bribes, and doing background checks on these journalists to keep them at bay. Paranoid? Not really, since McCrum’s first article created enough heat where he received death threats and was responsible for the company losing a billion dollars overnight. Yet, spectacularly, even as these journalists of the highest order kept exposing the fraud propping up the company, no one seemed to care. They just wanted to watch the money grow. And did it ever, reaching a net worth of nearly 25 billion dollars before its downfall.

I wish the filmmakers would have trusted their audience and not patronized them. For instance, we are given a multiple-minute explanation of money laundering. (You teach up to a peak level, not down). And while I admire the effort to do something different, several reenactments played out as still comic strips. The story of these journalists, like the Prime Video film Flight/Risk and Seattle Times reports exposing a coverup by Boeing, doesn’t need sleight of hand tactics. It works on its own merit.

However, the way Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard exposes the gigantic fraud (principal shareholders fronted as financial companies but were nothing more than family homes, yet, large financial institutions continued to invest hundreds of millions of dollars) there is almost a comical sense the narrative takes on. From fake sheiks to dummy corporations set up in family homes and Wirecard setting up ridiculous sting operations that were practically ripped from 80s television, which evokes the absurdity of it all. Either way, the criminals’ and investors’ hubris drive the story.

Even the hilarity of you can do anything you put your mind to.

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