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Istanbul Blast, N. Korea’s Faked Launch, Marrying Murdoch

Istanbul Blast, N. Korea’s Faked Launch, Marrying Murdoch

AT LEAST 10 DIE IN ISTANBUL BLAST

Photo: Zeynep Cermen/Xinhua via ZUMA

An explosion in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet tourist district killed at least 10 people and wounded 15 others today, CNN Türk reports. Local authorities have said they believe an ISIS suicide bomber caused the blast, Turkish daily Hürriyet reports.

  • French and German citizens could be among those killed, Reuters correspondent Parisa Hafezi reports. Six German citizens, one Norwegian and a Peruvian are also reported to be among the wounded.
  • Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has called for a security meeting with the interior minister and security chiefs in Ankara, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Turkish authorities have imposed a media “blackout” in the name of national security, news agency Anadolu Ajansi reports.
  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the alleged suicide bomber was probably Syrian, as The Guardian reports.

UN CALLS FOR EVACUATING 400 SYRIANS

At least 400 people suffering from severe malnourishment and starvation or in need of urgent medical treatment must be evacuated from the government-besieged Syrian town of Madaya, the United Nations said yesterday. “They are in grave peril of losing their lives,” UN humanitarian affairs chief Stephen O’Brien told The Guardian after a UN Security Council meeting in New York last night. Government forces allowed a UN aid convoy to enter the city yesterday, as did rebels surrounding the northern villages of Fua and Kefraya.


ISIS ATTACKS IN IRAQ KILL 32

At least 32 people were killed yesterday in a series of ISIS attacks in Baghdad, Iraq, the AFP reports. A first attack involving gunmen and bombers at a market area in the east of the city left 12 dead. A double blast then killed another 20 people in northern Baghdad. Combined, they mark the deadliest acts of violence in the area in months.


MARRYING MURDOCH

No need for Twitter if you’re a media baron: Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch placed an announcement in the Births, Marriages and Deaths page of The Times, the storied London-based newspaper he owns, to share news of his engagement to American actress and former supermodel Jerry Hall. Read more about it in Le Blog.


FAR RIGHT GOES ON LEIPZIG “RAMPAGE”

Police in Leipzig, Germany, have arrested 211 far-right extremists after hundreds of masked people went on a rampage last night, breaking windows, vandalizing buildings, setting cars on fire and throwing fireworks, Der Spiegel reports. The incidents happened on the sidelines of an anti-Islam, xenophobic rally organized by “Legida,” the Leipzig version of the anti-Muslim “Pegida” movement. Authorities say a break-off group walked through the southern Connewitz area, known to be left-leaning. This comes after hundreds of women were sexually assaulted by gangs of young migrants in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

  • Swedish police are also investigating reports of sexual assaults by migrant men during a festival in Stockholm last summer, The New York Times reports. Authorities have been accused of covering up the incidents.

VERBATIM

“The rocket ejected, began to light, and then failed catastrophically,” Reuters quoted California researcher Melissa Hanham as saying yesterday, describing footage of a North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile. Video of North Korea’s December launch, which officials there declared Friday had been successful, was apparently faked. “North Korea used heavy video editing to cover over” the failure of the launch, Hanham added.


ON THIS DAY


Today marks the sixth anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that killed at least 220,000 people in Haiti. That, plus the Eiffel Tower and Jack London’s birthday in today’s 57-second of history.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi has been arrested for her provocative work. With a new exhibition in Hong Kong, Asia’s battle for free speech and open sexuality comes together, Julie Zaugg writes for Le Temps. “‘Japan is a very patriarchal society, very generous towards male sexual desire,’” she says. “Igarashi notes that your local Japanese newsstand is likely to sell dozens of pornographic books and magazines, and every year thousands of visitors travel to the city of Kawasaki to parade with giant phallic sculptures during a festival called Kanamara Matsuri. Women, on the other hand, are not supposed to express any sexual desire. ‘The simple mention of the word vagina on television could lead to the host’s dismissal,’ she says.”

Read the full article, From Japan To Hong Kong, Female Sexuality Is A Free Speech Battle.


$3.5 BILLION

The Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group, headed by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, is set to buy the Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion, the group reports on its website. The purchase of Legendary, which has produced blockbusters such as Jurassic World, Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy, marks “China’s largest cross-border cultural acquisition to date.”


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



SOBRIETY IN THE UK

It turns out that today’s youth are undermining Great Britain’s reputation for copious tippling. A study by the Office for National Statistics shows that they are consuming much less alcohol than previous generations, with the proportion of teetotaling young adults increasing by over 40% between 2005 and 2013.


BYE BYE BOWIE

In 10 languages, the world bids farewell to British rock legend David Bowie.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

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.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

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.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

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".

Finding culprits 

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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