ISIS TAKES FULL CONTROL OF SYRIA-IRAQ BORDER CROSSINGS
Terrorist group ISIS continues to gain territory, and its latest victory against the Syrian army on the Syria-Iraq border puts its militants in complete control of the border crossings between the two countries, and more than half of Syrian territory, The Independent reports, citing The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The news is yet another blow for Bashar al-Assad as well as for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, and it comes just hours after the fall of UNESCO World Heritage Site Palmyra in central Syria.
- In a lengthy interview with The Atlantic, U.S. President Barack Obama commented on the ISIS’ conquest of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, acknowledging that there was “no doubt there was a tactical setback.” Obama added, however, that he doesn’t “think we’re losing.”
- The U.S. military has admitted that two innocent children were killed in drone strikes in Syria last fall. Read more from NBC News.
GAZA ON THE VERGE OF ECONOMIC COLLAPSE
“Blockades, war and poor governance” have put the Gaza economy on the verge of collapse the World Bank warned on Thursday. “The status quo in Gaza is unsustainable,” the organization said. The enclave’s GDP is only a couple of percentage points higher than it was 20 years, while the population grew by 230%. According to the report, its GDP would be four times higher if it weren’t for the conflicts with Israel and the many restrictions. Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world with 43% of the population without a job.
ON THIS DAY
Exactly 202 years ago, German composer Richard Wagner was born. Time for your 57-second shot of history here.
“This land is ours. All of it is ours,” Israel’s new Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said of internationally-recognized Palestinian territories occupied by Israel during an inaugural address to diplomats. An Orthodox Jew, Hotovely cited religious texts to back her claim and said it was time for Israel to stop trying to appease the world and stand up for itself, AP reports. Hotovely is not the only young hardliner in Netanyahu’s new Cabinet, and for our Israeli source partner Calcalist, the new Netanyahu government is the worst in Israeli History.
CAMERON BEGINS EU MEMBERSHIP NEGOTIATIONS
Freshly reelected Prime Minister David Cameron will use an EU summit in Latvia today to begin discussions with its European partners on new terms for Britain’s membership, The Daily Telegraph reports. High on Cameron’s agenda is an end to “benefit tourism” and the repatriation of key powers from Brussels back to Westminster. The Conservative leader has promised to hold a referendum on EU membership in 2017.
Abu Ghraib is the first city reached when driving west from Baghdad into the province of Anbar. ISIS has attacked the town several times — its notorious prison always the goal, Birgit Svensson writes for Die Welt: “This city's streets are deserted. It would seem certain that the residents of Abu Ghraib fear the Da’ish, the Arabic word for ISIS, as fear has been the dominant emotion since the terrorists began conquering territory in Iraq. And now, the terror organization is defending their gains with brute force. A uniformed officer at a checkpoint assures us that ‘it is not because of Da’ish’ that no one is out and about. Instead, by way of explanation, he points towards the sky where the sun is at its zenith. It's nearly 40 °C (104 °F) in the shade, and he seems to be saying people aren't out because they are trying to keep cool.”
Read the full article, On The Iraqi Front Line, As ISIS Aims For Abu Ghraib.
CHINA SLAMS U.S. ACTIONS IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
Beijing has accused the U.S. of “irresponsible and dangerous” action that’s “detrimental to regional peace and stability” after a U.S. military plane on a surveillance mission flew over part of the South China Sea where the government is building artificial islands, Reuters reports. The oil-rich South China Sea is a thorny issue between China and its neighbors with Beijing’s territorial claims clashing with those of Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Photo: Eric Lalmand/Belga/ZUMA
Belgium commemorated Thursday the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, during which the French army under the command of Napoleon was defeated.
SAUDI ARABIA GOES SOLAR
Saudi Arabia could soon move on from the fossil fuels on which it built its financial might to export solar and wind energy instead, the kingdom’s oil minister Ali al-Naimi suggested yesterday during a conference in Paris. “We recognize that eventually, one of these days, we are not going to need fossil fuels. I don't know when, in 2040, 2050 or thereafter,” the Financial Times quotes him as saying.
IRELAND VOTES ON GAY MARRIAGE
Irish voters will decide today whether the country’s constitution should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, with the youth vote expected to decide the outcome, according to the Irish Independent. In case of a “Yes” vote victory, Ireland would become the world’s first country to adopt gay marriage through a popular vote, though same-sex marriage has been made legal in all or parts of nearly 20 nations: Take a quick video tour around the world, courtesy of Worldcrunch.
FRANCE BANS FOOD WASTE
France’s Assemblée Nationale voted yesterday to ban supermarkets from destroying unsold food products, in a bid to reduce food waste, L’Express reports. Instead, supermarkets will be encouraged to donate unsold but still edible food to charity organizations or to farms where it can be used as animal feed or compost. On average, the French throw out between 20 and 30 kilos of food per year and per person.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
If there’s one food item that definitely shouldn’t be wasted, it’s Japanese melon. Not at that price of $12,400 for two. Still, it’s a bargain compared to what this luxury fruit cost last year.
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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