Using hidden cameras, the “documentary" has the feel of a law enforcement sting.
The director poses as an odd, semi-colonialist, European businessman who bribes the Liberian government to appoint him as a diplomat. As an Ambassador, he opens a Liberian mission in another African country rich in diamonds and minerals. Pretending to "develop" the country by starting a factory for the locals, his plan is to use diplomatic immunity to smuggle blood diamonds, before he runs out of bribe money, or the corrupt officials have him arrested or murdered.
Some reviewers (here and here) wondered if the film is all non-fiction documentary, or includes some performance art. I am not sure that it matters. In the end, a film about deceptions is asking, Can you see who is the real victim, the “mark”, of this con?
Amidst the parade of corrupt officials pretending to sign real production contracts and greedy schemers posing as people capable of conducting real business, we come to care only for what will happen to the villagers. There are heart-breaking scenes of villagers painfully trying to decipher, from laptop videos, how to run a factory that is just a prop in a scheme, not a step in national development.
They have no share in the diamond mines or the mineral wealth of their country, and they will get nothing from the corrupt business being done by their government. We are made witnesses to their deception.
'The Ambassador' takes us inside a kleptocracy in motion, a morally dark, repellant place that is usually either unknown or noted with indifference. The film is less a call to action, than a call to notice.
From the comfort of my couch, for the price of an online movie, I got to "be there" - and I'm grateful for the tour.
The next time there's a news story about a country's national resources being stolen by an elite, or a blog post about "conflict minerals," I'lll remember the scenes of the villagers in 'The Ambassador' and take the time to reflect on the unique scope of the crimes of kleptocracy and the painfully slow progress of the world community towards stopping it. Seeing The Ambassador is one step.
Michael Scher is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog. He's a Miami-based consultant assisting companies with FCPA compliance, investigations, and monitoring. Michael speaks English, French, and Hebrew. He can be contacted here.