First published on Voices for Transparency

Just in time for the weekend, here’s another guide to excellent productions that focus on the different faces of corruption – this time we look at series. All of these are currently available on Netflix.

Everyone knows House of Cards as the Netflix show about corruption, but over the last few years, the popular streaming service has produced several high-quality TV shows with different flavours of corruption at the heart of their story lines.

This article follows on from a previous piece on corruption-related movies.

The Mechanism

One of Netflix’s newest series (out 23 March 2018), The Mechanism is a fictional drama based on the real-life Lava Jato (aka Car Wash) corruption scandal that has swept across the world over the last few years after starting in Latin America.

The Car Wash scandal makes for a spectacular drama on its own, so it was only a matter of time before someone decided to make a series out of it. That someone is José Padilha, the same director who made Narcos (and also Robocop and Elite Squad 1 and 2).

The real-life case began as an investigation into what seemed like a standard money laundering scheme using small businesses (like car washes), but as the small team of investigators dug deeper, a much bigger and more complex web of corruption unfolded.

But while the fictional Lava Jato is keeping viewers gripped in The Mechanism, unfortunately it seems that the real Car Wash investigation has stalled. In various countries, cases are either being held in courts over legal technicalities or not being properly investigated. We at Transparency International are calling for more action to keep up the momentum.

Fun fact: the real life Car Wash Task Force were the winners of the 2016 Anti-Corruption Award.


Ozark tells the story of Marty Byrde, a Chicago financial planner who seems bland and predictable when the viewer first meets him and his typically dysfunctional middle-class family. But, not everything is as it seems. For several years, Marty has been laundering money for what he describes as Mexico’s second-biggest drug cartel.

His life is turned upside-down when the cartel finds out that his business partner has been skimming money from the profits. Plus, someone close to him is talking to the feds. Marty is forced to relocate his family to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. There, he faces the challenge of laundering $8-million for the cartel — no small feat to perform in a rural and economically depressed area in the middle of the US.

Ozark provides some fascinating and eye-opening insights into the world and methods of money laundering, shell companies, and the dark side of the global financial system. It’s a well written and gorgeously shot show, well worth your time if you want a lesson in Money Laundering 101, and to understand how easily dirty money can be washed and moved.


This Netflix drama follows Pablo Escobar’s rise and fall as a notorious drug lord in 1980s Colombia and tells the story of two American DEA agents sent to bring him to justice. As well as depicting drug-fuelled decadence, the show offers a glimpse into the dark and brutal world of drug trafficking and relentless corruption at every level of public office.

In Escobar’s world you’re either with him or against him, summed up in the show’s famous line: “plata o plomo”, “silver or lead”, meaning whoever can’t be bribed must be killed. This inflexible modus operandi has dire consequences for anyone who crosses paths with Escobar, resulting in unabated public corruption and endless dead ends for the DEA agents.

Spanning three seasons (so far), Narcos is a dark tale of the destructive power of deep corruption in unstable 1980s Colombia.

But, remember to take this work of fiction-based-on-reality with a pinch of salt: Escobar’s own son has criticised the show for being historically inaccurate.


This three-season Netflix series follows the drama that unfolds around and within the Rayburn family: three of four siblings who seem, at first glance, near perfect. They and their ageing parents run a small yet idyllic beachfront hotel in the Florida Keys and are highly esteemed members of their community.

But, not is all as it seems. When Danny, the fourth sibling, comes home after a long absence, he sets in motion a series of events, including a murder, that lead to the slow unravelling of the Rayburn family.

Corruption plays a big role in the series as the siblings try to escape prosecution for their crimes. Police and political corruption, alongside drug trafficking and other crimes, are all set to the backdrop of a gorgeously sinister tropical paradise, making for compelling television. It’s a slow burn, but definitely worth a watch — and it doesn’t hurt that the acting is phenomenal.


In what critics have called “the Italian answer to Narcos”, Suburra, set in contemporary Rome, shows how corruption has rotted through society — from the church to the government to (naturally) organised crime and beyond.

The story of this 10-episode Italian-language Netflix thriller starts when a valuable piece of land owned by the Vatican comes up for grabs. A newly vacant mayoral seat means that a shady deal to buy it must be completed as quickly as possible before the position is filled. Clashes between ambitious individuals, rival mafia groups and a catholic cardinal (caught up in an orgy scandal) ensue, with little to no law enforcement to keep the various criminals in check.

Throughout the series, the juxtaposition of the public and beautiful facade of Rome and its seedy underbelly mix together to display an expansive and grim world of corruption. Excellent acting from a strong cast and beautiful scenes of majestic architecture make for a memorable and thrilling series.

Other worthwhile corruption-related series include: