DEATH TOLL FROM DAMASCUS AIR STRIKE NOW AT 33
The death toll from airstrikes carried out yesterday in the Deir al-Asafir district southeast of Damascus has risen to 33, mostly women and children, Reuters reports this morning. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the strikes were carried out by Syrian aircraft and came despite a month-long "cessation of hostilities" in Syria between government forces and their opponents, excluding Islamic State and al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front. The targeted area is controlled by different factions, including rebel forces covered by the truce as well as al-Nusra Front.
POLICE FILE HOMICIDE CASE AFTER KOLKATA CRASH
Five company officials have so far been detained as Indian police this morning opened a case of culpable homicide against the construction company IVRCL that built the flyover that collapsed in Kolkata yesterday, killing at least 24 people and injuring at least 90, Hindustan Times reports. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee commented that those responsible would not be spared and blamed the previous state government that awarded the flyover contract in 2007.
KIM FIRES AWAY AGAIN
South Koreaâ€™s Defense Ministry says North Korea fired another short-range surface-to-air missile into the East Sea at 12:45 local time today, The Korea Herald reports. The launch, taking place as regional leaders met in Washington to discuss the threat of Pyongyangâ€™s nuclear weapons program, is the latest in a series of launches during an extended period of elevated military tension on the Korean Peninsula.
MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
GAS EXPLOSION IN PARIS
A major midday explosion in a 7-story building sent a major scare through the French capital, though police quickly confirmed the cause was a gas leak. At least 5 people were injured, Le Figaro reports.
BRAZIL CHARGES WORLDâ€™S RICHEST BANKER WITH BRIBERY
The worldâ€™s richest banker, Joseph Safra is the latest billionaire to be named in Brazilâ€™s far-reaching corruption probe as prosecutors yesterday charged him with an alleged scheme to pay bribes, Folha de S.Paulo reports. According to Brazilâ€™s Federal Police, The Safra Group is accused of paying R$15.3 million (about $4 million) in bribes to Brazilâ€™s Administrative Council of Tax Appeals.
Le Monde tells the story of Abolfazl Arabpour, an 86-year-old tailor from the Iranian holy city of Qom, who has been dressing the cream of the Shia clergy for 50 years, supplying everything â€" even the boxer shorts. â€œWho wears it the best? Without any doubt Mohammad Khatami, according to the tailor. Not even Rouhani has replaced him in his heart. The only true reformist Iranian president (1997-2005) embodied, in his day, a new face of Iran. He advocated "dialogue between civilizations" while wearing immaculate clothes. He was the one who made Abolfazl Arabpour famous â€¦â€ Read the full article, Shia Chic: Meet The Qom Tailor Who Dresses Iranâ€™s Clerics.
ON THIS DAY
The ancient Roman city of Pompeii was rediscovered 268 years ago today. That, and more, in your 57-second shot of history.
TRUMP MEETS WITH GOP BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump paid a closed-door surprise visit to the Republican National Committee yesterday after a tumultuous two days on the campaign trail, NBC News reports. The meeting came after Trump faced harsh criticism for suggesting in an interview with MSNBC that he advocates "some form of punishment" for women who receive abortions. Trump commented on Twitter he had a "nice meeting" with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
"What now for Zuma?" asks Cape Town-based, Afrikaans-language daily Die Burger on its front page Friday, a day after South Africa's highest court ruled that President Jacob Zuma breached the constitution by upgrading his private home with government money.
ARCHITECTURE WORLD MOURNS ZAHA HADID
World famous Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, the first female winner of the top Pritzker Architecture Prize, died yesterday from a heart attack at the age of 65. Read a 2009 profile of Hadid from The New Yorker.
Thatâ€™s the number of Belgians who believe there will be more terrorist attacks, a poll published in Le Soir reveals. The survey found 36% believe Muslims are complicit with the terrorists, 31% think theyâ€™re victims, 33% think theyâ€™re neither nor.
APRIL FOOLS INTERNATIONAL
Pranks abound today, on what is arguably the yearâ€™s least trustworthy 24 hours on the Internet.
- YouTube launches SnoopaVision expand=1]. You can finally watch your favorite videos in 360 degrees and with Snoop Dogg.
- UK bathroom retailer Bathstore has a revolutionary app. Silent expand=1] Loo lets you download sounds so you can â€œdownloadâ€ in silence, and save water.
- The Paris metro operator announces it will rename 13 stations: â€œTélégrapheâ€ is to be renamed â€œ#Tweet,â€ â€œPyrénéesâ€ changes to â€œAlpesâ€ â€¦ and â€œQuatre-Septembreâ€ obviously becomes â€œ1er Avril.â€
- You hungry? But just a little bit hungry? Burger King France unveils the â€œsingle expand=1] fries,â€ individually packaged.
- Is Vladimir Putin dating Rupert Murdochâ€™s ex?
- SO. MANY. GOOGLE. JOKES: From the self-driving expand=1] bicycle in the Netherlands to the Searchable Socks in Australia and Japanâ€™s retro keyboard. Google even managed to prank themselves this year, when their Gmail Mic Drop button April Fool backfired .
- â€œDrinking can be uglyâ€ and other scare labels to feature on German bottles of alcohol as Health Ministry vows to tackle binge-drinking and beer bellies.
- TIME magazine also has a list of 2016 pranks. You can also follow The Guardianâ€™s April Fools live blog (!)
- Donâ€™t miss Worldcrunchâ€™s contribution to the mix: Weâ€™ve tracked down 5 of the best April Fools ever â€" including spaghetti trees and mountain cleaners â€" in our exclusive Take 5 video.
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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