GREXIT BECOMES MORE LIKELY
Greece is edging closer to default and a potential Eurozone exit after talks with international creditors broke down once again late yesterday, The Guardian reports. Tensions with Berlin appear to be ratcheting up after the parliamentary leader of Chancellor Angela Merkelâ€™s CDU party said, â€œGreece needs to get back to reality.â€ But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reaffirmed his determination to limit austerity. Greek stocks fell by more than 6% in early trading today.
At least 24 people are still missing after severe flooding in Georgia's capital Tbilisi that left at least 12 people dead. Potentially dangerous animals â€" including hungry tigers, lions and wolves â€" are on the loose too, as heavy rainfall damaged their zoo enclosures, allowing them to escape. Read more in our Extra! feature.
JEB BUSH TO ANNOUNCE TODAY
Photo: David Becker/ZUMA
Jeb Bush is expected to officially launch his presidential campaign today in Miami, The Miami Herald reports. The Republican candidate unveiled his presidential logo yesterday â€" â€œJeb! 2016â€ â€" with critics suggesting he might be running away from his family name.
â€œPutin didnâ€™t give him asylum for nothing. His documents were encrypted, but they werenâ€™t completely secure, and we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted,â€ a senior source in Britainâ€™s Home Office told The Sunday Times amid reports that Russia and China hacked into Edward Snowdenâ€™s files, allegedly forcing British and American intelligence agencies to pull agents from live operations abroad.
U.S. STRIKE KILLS NOTORIOUS TERRORIST
Infamous al-Qaeda-linked terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Libya Saturday, which CNN characterized as â€œan extraordinary intelligence achievement against one of the most elusive and powerful jihadists in North Africa.â€ Belmokhtar was behind the spectacular 2013 hostage crisis in southern Algeria during which 39 foreign hostages died.
ON THIS DAY
A tsunami in Japan killed 22,000 people on this day in 1896. Learn more June 15 facts in todayâ€™s 57-second of history.
YEMEN PEACE TALKS OPEN IN GENEVA
After months of deadly fighting, Yemenâ€™s exiled government and representatives from the Houthi rebellion will gather in Geneva to discuss a possible solution to the violent conflict that has killed more than 2,000 people since March. The battleground momentum seems to be with the rebels after they seized a provincial capital near the Saudi Arabian border, AFP reports.
A persistent drought is threatening Californiaâ€™s storied vineyards, which employ hundreds of thousands in the Golden State alone. But as La Stampaâ€™s Francesco Semprini reports, there is still water, for now. â€œMuch like every other Californian business, Napaâ€™s vineyards are facing serious challenges resulting from severe drought that has brought rainfall to historic lows and worsened the stateâ€™s already hot climate,â€ he writes. â€œThe droughtâ€™s effects are visible as we follow Highway 101, the bright green vineyards bordered by fields of progressively intense shades of yellow. It's a sign that some crops have been abandoned in favor of grapevines and olives, northern California's other major agricultural export.â€
Read the full article, As Drought Endures, Napa Wineries See A Glass Half Full.
COURT SANCTIONS SUDAN PRESIDENT
South Africaâ€™s high court has ordered Sudan President Omar al-Bashir not to leave the country, where he is attending the African Union Summit, while the court considers whether to comply with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant, The Mail & Guardian reports. Bashir stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the violent conflict in Darfur. Despite media reports that he had managed to flee, Reuters quotes a presidential spokesman as saying that heâ€™s still in Johannesburg. The courtâ€™s order sparked a furious reaction from South African President Jacob Zuma, who said the ICC â€œis no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intendedâ€ and seeks to impose a selective Western justice by singling out Africa and Eastern Europe.
COULD BLATTER UN-RESIGN?
FIFAâ€™s controversial president is reportedly considering staying on at the helm of soccerâ€™s governing body despite announcing his resignation weeks ago amid a massive corruption probe, Swiss newspaper Schweiz Am Sonntag reported. A source close to the 79-year-old, who is still serving pending a replacement, said he might reconsider his decision after he received â€œmessages of support from African and Asian football associations.â€
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
U.S. TO STORE HEAVY WEAPONS IN POLAND
The Polish government is in talks with U.S. officials to permanently host heavy American weaponry to prevent a potential attack from Russia, The Wall Street Journal quotes Polandâ€™s defense minister as saying. A Pentagon spokesman denied the U.S. administration had made a decision about where to place its weaponry in the region. But The New York Times reported that the Pentagon was â€œpoised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries,â€ a â€œsignificantâ€ move meant â€œto deter possible Russian aggression in Europe.â€
The latest installment in the Jurassic series launched with a bang, grossing a staggering $511.8 million worldwide over the weekend, becoming the first-ever movie to earn more than $500 million in its opening days.
COLOMBIAN ARMY KILLS REBEL COMMANDER
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that Jose Amin Hernandez Manrique, leader of the countryâ€™s second-largest leftist guerrilla group, had been killed in a military operation, El Espectador reports. Manrique had been leading as many as 13 fighting units of 260 â€œguerrillerosâ€ and was believed to be responsible for the 1999 hijacking of an aircraft with 46 passengers on board.
NEPAL SITES TO REOPEN AFTER QUAKE
Nepalese authorities are poised to reopen heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, hoping to resurrect much-needed tourism after the devastating April earthquakes that killed more than 8,000 people, the BBC reports. But UNESCO is concerned the sites arenâ€™t yet secured enough. Read more about Nepalâ€™s reconstruction from the Nepali Times.
â€˜O LUNA MIA
After weeks of confusion and irritation for Geminis, things are headed in the right direction again. Meanwhile, good news is in store for Scorpios too, but the going will be tough. Simon, Italyâ€™s most trusted astrologer, has the week all worked out. Take a look.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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