KENYA IN SHOCK AFTER MASSACRE
“Terrorists make the earth shake again,” reads the front page of Kenya's Swahili-language newspaper Taifa Leo after yesterday’s attack on Garissa University College in eastern Kenya. At least 147 people were killed and 79 were wounded when gunmen claiming to belong to the Somalia-based militant group Al-Shabaab stormed Garissa University College — around 200 kilometers from the Somalian border — specifically targeting Christians and taking hostage. The siege lasted 15 hours and ended with four gunmen shot down by police. Read more on our 4 Corners blog here.
IRANIANS CELEBRATE NUCLEAR DEAL
Groups of Iranians gathered last night to celebrate what U.S. President Barack Obama characterized as an “historic understanding” between Iran and six world powers on its nuclear program, The New York Times reports. “We have been disappointed so many times, I can’t really believe there might be an end to this,” a Tehran resident was quoted as saying.
- Under the framework deal reached yesterday in Lausanne, Switzerland, Iran will reduce the number of centrifuges from 19,000 to a little over 5,000, and will not enrich uranium over 3.67%, well below the levels required to develop nuclear weapons. International sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy will be lifted after the country demonstrates that it is abiding by the deal, a process that may take from six months to one year. More details from the Financial Times.
- Many crucial details remain to be worked out. Negotiations will now focus on a “comprehensive deal” with a June 30 deadline. According to the BBC, these talks are expected to be “tougher” than the previous round.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with his security cabinet to discuss the framework deal, The Jerusalem Post reports. Commenting on the news yesterday, he said that the agreement “would threaten the survival of Israel.”
- Read more global reaction in a special Worldcrunch wrap-up.
ON THIS DAY
UK SPIED ON ARGENTINA OVER FALKLANDS
Amid Argentine and international pressure to open negotiations on the disputed Falkland Islands, Britain’s intelligence agency GCHQ spied on Buenos Aires, launched offensive cyber operations, and may even have spread false propaganda to discredit the Argentinian government, The Intercept reports.
As America Economia’s Daniela Arce Valiente reports, studies show that complaining to colleagues creates untold amounts of stress at the office. Two writers recently tried to abstain from sharing the woes for a whole month and were pleasantly surprised by the results. “A recent study by the psychology department at Germany's Friedrich Schiller University indicates that exposure to stimuli that generate strong negative emotions, or being close to toxic individuals, is stressful. Characterized as demotivators, these are the people we are told to avoid at work. An article in Forbes magazine likewise describes them as most dangerous to their colleagues' mental well-being, because negative attitudes are contagious.”
Read the full article, The Worst Co-Worker Of All? Joe Complainer.
FRANCE BANS TOO-SKINNY MODELS
The French Parliament approved a law today that bans the use of anorexic and too-skinny models. According to Twitter" data-cke-saved-href="http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2015/04/03/97001-20150403FILWWW00087-loi-sante-l-assemblee-interdit-les-mannequins-trop-maigres.php#xtor=AL-155-Twitter">Le Figaro, those who break the law now face up to six months in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($82,000).
WINTER IS COMING, A LITTLE BIT
With the season five premiere of Game of Thrones approaching, author George R. R. Martin, whose book series inspired the show, has released a chapter of the next and long-awaited installment, The Winds Of Winter. Read Alayne’s story here.
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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
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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