Understanding Paradise Papers through Stranger Things


Understanding Paradise Papers through Stranger Things

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Financial newspapers are known to be performing even better than sleeping pills. People tend to doze off the moment they hear words like audit, offshore entities, tax havens, and shell companies together in a sentence. However, these are the terms in focus in the explosive Paradise Papers exposé. And they are worth our attention.

Let’s try and explain it through Stranger Things: It’s trending, allows you to Netflix and chill, and is also an apt metaphor for the financial wizardry on display.

Let’s say you want to watch Stranger Things 2, either under peer pressure to write a Facebook status about it, or because you genuinely like the show. Like a good, upstanding millennial citizen, you pay Netflix its monthly subscription and watch the show. They send you the invoice copy on mail and your name reflects in their database of subscribers.

While you check the invoice copy, you read “Taxes” and secretly give gaalis to the government. (I’m just kidding, no one opens and checks invoices anymore… that’s so 2004.) But when you paid 18 per cent GST as tax on your subscription, the government learnt about your transaction as well. While you watched the show online, your IP address was logged by your internet service provider, so he could keep track of the data you have consumed (including porn. Yes, even if it’s in incognito mode). In return, you enjoyed the show without any disruptions. This was the basis of an healthy, open relationship. Unfortunately, healthy, open relationships are the stuff of legends only.

If there is something that unites people all over the world, it is the concept of jugaad.

You see, IRL you’re too cheap to pay that ₹650 a month and you’ve already used up your free month. So you go to a torrent website and download the entire season. A lot of people around the world also do the same. While downloading it, many of them hid their IP addresses so that nobody finds out about it. Suresh, your nerdy friend, changed his IP address to somewhere in Russia and streamed the entire season online on the weekend. (God, these nerds.) Sneha downloaded an Android app that allowed her to watch the show without paying any money. One guy hacked and obtained the username and password to someone else’s Netflix account. If there is something that unites people all over the world, it is the concept of jugaad. Everyone saw the show, gave their two cents on Twitter, and moved on with their life. But to quote Shah Rukh Khan from Om Shanti Om, “Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.”

What the Paradise Papers have made public are records of all people who saw Stranger Things and how they saw it. If you’ve done something questionable, you should be worried. It’s basically like your internet history has been made public. People will know if you’ve ever sent a dick pick to anyone. The list contains names of a lot of wealthy and powerful people as well as large corporate companies. It’s a huge data leak from a few streaming sites and shady torrent websites.

Now, it’s not a crime to watch Stranger Things (the crime is paying for Netflix and watching Prem Ratan Dhan Payo). And not all of them are guilty by mere mention of their name on the list. Many of them would’ve watched the show fairly on Netflix and hence their transaction is legal; they’ve made the necessary declaration in their country.

But it is also highly possible and quite probable that a lot of them downloaded Stranger Things illegally from torrent websites. The leaks indicate that a lot of powerful people hid or changed their IP addresses, some hacked accounts, many of them streamed Stranger Things online from some shady websites. Some stored it on their personal cloud folders, broke various laws in their domestic countries, and also tried to fool the cyber police. Many of these dark secrets are now out in the open in the form of 13.4 million documents.

The onus is now on the investigating authorities in each of the countries to take it further. One thing is for sure though, the deeper they look, there will be a lot of Stranger Things that will be discovered in the process. Quite literally.

If the action on the Panama Papers is anything to go by, it doesn’t inspire much confidence. It’s a bit like watching Dhoni come out to bat these days when the required run rate is around 12. You have a lot of hope but you’re left disappointed at the end.