Netflix Targets the ‘World’s Most Wanted’ Criminals

There are varying degrees of bad guys, and per its title, World’s Most Wanted is about the absolute worst of t

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There are varying degrees of bad guys, and per its title, World’s Most Wanted is about the absolute worst of the worst. A six-part Netflix docuseries whose each installment fixates on a different fugitive, it’s a true-crime effort (premiering Aug. 5) that aims to further raise the profile of the globe’s chief villains—and, in doing so, to make their avoidance of the law that much more difficult.

Of the monstrous sextet profiled in World’s Most Wanted, only one has been caught, Félicien Kabuga, and he just landed in custody on May 16, 2020. That’s the best news to come out of the streaming service’s latest look at humanity’s dark side, whose tales of murder and mayhem are concerned with the way in which evasion from capture and prosecution is achievable through a combination of wealth, access to arms, a fondness for violence, and political influence, since powerful connections to governments and criminal outfits are key to making sure one stays hidden and safe. Those elements are central to every story recounted here, illustrating the nexus of cash, guns, and organized-terror cabals that allow infamous outlaws to remain on the lam.

Kabuga spent two-and-a-half decades avoiding apprehension for being the chief financier of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, making him arguably the most evil individual in a series rife with them. Kabuga built his fortune as a well-known businessman, such that one interviewee says local entrepreneurs who hit it rich were referred to “Kabuga.” A fanatic at heart, the Rwandan multimillionaire used his money to found and fund radio station RTLM, which aired round-the-clock calls for Hutus to massacre Tutsis, as well as paid for the machetes that were subsequently used to slaughter upwards of one million citizens. When the bloodshed subsided, he was arrested in Kenya but the charges didn’t stick. Afterward, he fled for distant shores, using his checkbook to keep his whereabouts and identity secret, and to bankroll a fatal hit on a law-enforcement informant who dared to rat him out.

Kabuga’s recent incarceration is a happy ending to a horrific saga, and it’s about the only bright spot in World’s Most Wanted, which otherwise recounts how titanic criminals of various stripes have kept themselves free. In Mexico, Sinaloa cartel bigwig Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada rules with an iron fist by sticking to his remote mountainous region, insulating himself from direct contact with underlings, and generally keeping a non-existent public profile—a tack that his partner, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, failed to do, and for this transgression was sacrificed to the feds by El Mayo in a deal to help his son Vicente. Also keeping himself alive, and out of handcuffs, by staying far off the radar is Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, whose reign of terror continues despite the fact that many of his comrades have been executed or arrested. For both men, killing is easy, and having the wherewithal to pay off politicians, cops and assassins makes things even easier.

While plentiful resources afford fugitives the ability to move from one safehouse and country to another, and to bribe anyone and everyone along the way, having close ties with a menacing group is also beneficial. That’s certainly what’s let British-born, blue-eyed, hijab-wearing “White Widow” Samantha Lewthwaite stay afloat during the 15 years since her husband Germaine Lindsay carried out the July 7, 2005, terror attack on the London transit system. A convert to Islam who soon became a mastermind of violent plots around the world, she now shelters herself from pursuers by holing up in Somalia with her fellow al Shabaab extremists. Likewise, top-of-the-heap Russian crime lord Semion Mogilevich—likened to The Usual Suspects’ Keyser Söze because of his gift for disappearing right before he’s nabbed—has used his vast riches and clout to stay one step ahead of law enforcement agencies, and when things got too dicey for him, he scurried back to Mother Russia, where he still resides as a protected made man.

The difficulty of bringing such figures to justice is the prime focus of World’s Most Wanted, even as it generates its greatest excitement from archival footage of police raids being conducted at safe houses and in restaurants, of fierce shootouts in the streets, and of arrests made in broad daylight. Coupled with grisly photos of the human carnage wrought by these criminals’ orders and actions, as well as surveillance and cell phone videos, the series provides an enlivening up-close-and-personal view of the efforts to take down these architects of death and destruction. Mercifully avoiding the corny dramatic reenactments upon which so many kindred projects rely, it complements its commentary from a collection of talking heads with bracing action-oriented clips.

Also utilizing graphical maps and aerial cityscapes to geographically situate viewers, World’s Most Wanted is an efficient affair that wastes scant time distending its narratives by belaboring peripheral specifics. With each episode running under 50 minutes, it gets right to the point, delivering harrowing details about each fiend’s atrocities and the shrewd maneuvers that facilitated their escape, all while contextualizing their underworld tenures with quick recaps of their backgrounds and the cultural atmospheres in which they operate. What one learns from those particulars is that ducking detention is a process driven by both skill and luck, since, for example, paying for tip-offs is only worthwhile if said tips arrive at the precise necessary moment—a fact borne out by a Prague raid that missed Mogilevich by mere minutes.

Unlike John Walsh’s long-running television show America’s Most Wanted, which got the word out about sought-after crooks in the hope that an audience member might recognize him or her, Netflix’s World’s Most Wanted isn’t likely to lead to its subjects’ capture, what with Mogilevich, Lewthwaite, Zambada and Denaro wielding far too much power to be brought down by a random couch potato. Still, it serves as a chilling reminder of modern society’s preponderance of barbarians (and barbarism), and the way unchecked economic might affords them endless opportunities to commit—and get away—with murder.
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