Titled Scandal! The Fall of Wirecard, Netflix shows in a touching documentary how short sellers and journalists exposed the scam. The film does not delve into the details of the case, but it manages to portray it as a thriller for the mass audience.
It was a conversation with an Australian hedge fund manager that first brought Wirecard to Dan McCram’s attention. The journalist at the time was looking for “suspicious companies” to write about for the Financial Times. “Will you take care of two German gangsters?” asked the investor. This is how McCrum tells it in the new Netflix documentary Scandal! The Fall of Wirecard.
This is followed by a 90-minute search for Wirecard scammers, along with journalists and short sellers. The first phone call between McCrum, widely seen as the driving force behind clarifying the economic scandal, and Marcus Brown, Wirecard’s longtime boss, can be heard early on. Recording the duel is the strength of the documentary.
A lot has happened since the summer of 2020, when Wirecard’s service was discontinued. The Investigative Committee of the Bundestag submitted its report, the newspapers followed the developments, and the first documentaries – even television films on the Wirecard case – were already shown. Great interest in the scandal has waned somewhat. The question arises: So what is the motivation to watch the Netflix documentary? What’s new to report?
Dan vs Goliath
The first phone call between company president Brown and investigation chief Makram signals the beginning of a cat-and-mouse game. After a very brief initial banter, the journalist clearly said that Wirecard’s accounting could be “dirty”. This is the first possible explanation for questionable corporate takeovers in Asia. Or Wirecard has something to hide.
“This is bullshit,” Brown says in the recording. The documents contradict statements by the CEO, who is now in custody, with several short sellers working. Tobias Busler, Matthew Earl and Fahmy Kadeer, who has already appeared in the documentary series Dirty Money, have their say.
The Netflix documentary managed to deftly cover up the controversial reputation of short sellers. One by one, like journalist McCrum, they are portrayed as stubborn geeks browsing through files and reading deeply into their big opponent’s business model – while their voices in the background make clear that they are actually doing the work of financial detectives.
Threatened by “Thugs” – with soundtrack
If the documentary had been a feature film, its ending didn’t spoil reality long ago – someone would have rooted these underdogs to see if they managed to take down Wirecard. On the one hand, there are the geeks who look at annual reports, stay persistent and believe in a good cause. On the other hand, there is great hope in German technology that politics and business want to believe in.
The speed and soundtrack also remind us of the thrill. Scenes like the first meeting between McCrum and his best source Matthew Earl at a London sushi restaurant are recreated and made more exciting on show than in reality. 120 pages of the research report are interchanged under the table: the Zaatara Report, which has been cited frequently since.
Progressive business mode. Although the end of the story is clear, viewers share the fever: Wirecard delegated wiretapping to the London offices of the Financial Times, and short seller Tobias Posler threatened by “thugs.” Perhaps the Hollywood representation of these episodes is necessary to truly convey to viewers just how severe Wirecard’s attempts to intimidate can be.
No one has ever taken a close look at Wirecard, Bussler says. Except for Dan Makram. He remains persistent, even during an internal investigation by the Financial Times or a complaint by German financial regulator Baffin. The protagonist is trapped. Is it all over now? Was the journalist lost?
However, in Wirecard, it’s getting more and more ridiculous, and more and more paranoid. Finally, management discusses the acquisition of Deutsche Bank. Viewers realize that everything is much bigger than we thought. In between, former Wirecard employees can report “from the inside” in a relaxed atmosphere, as we already know from Netflix documentaries like the “Fyre Festival” debacle. You just don’t want to believe it was a scam. Among the insiders, for example, is former Wirecard manager Martin Osterloh.
Fintech has a great history, this has been evident for a long time. Netflix has now prepared events for its wide target group. If you want to delve deeper into the world of business and want to know the details of the business model, then you should take a look at other documentaries. The role of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, who campaigned for Wirecard during a visit to China, or the responsibility of then-Finance Minister Olaf Schulz is mentioned in passing.
However, if you want to see a lavishly produced modern version of a good old bank robbery mixed with a touch of Watergate The Untouchables starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, Scandal! Wirecard’s downfall is correct. “It looked like a bank, but it was actually a robbery,” Dan McCram says. He finally smiles for the camera.