SPOTLIGHT: NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA SECRETLY MEET
Just how dangerous is a nuclear-armed North Korea? Run by Kim Jong-un, the unpredictable 32-year-old scion of an autocratic dynasty, the country has been virtually sealed off from the rest of the world for decades. What we know is disturbing: The pace of both nuclear weapons and missile-delivery systems has been accelerating. China, thought to have some sway over its regional neighbor, does not seem to know how to handle Kim. And then thereâ€™s what we donâ€™t know: Are Kimâ€™s chest-beating and nuclear ambitions about reinforcing domestic control or a sign that he wants to declare war on other countries? A report this morning shows that South Korea is not waiting to find out. Seoul has already drawn up plans to assassinate the leader if nuclear threat is imminent.
Another scenario also worries observers â€" the prospect that the regime could begin to lose control domestically. Writing in July, Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based Korean history professor put it this way: â€œThe sad, simple fact is that the status quo on the peninsula is inherently unstable. Sooner or later, North Korea's political and economic elite is likely to fall. This will present the very risky prospect of violent chaos, in the style of Libya or Syria, in a country that possesses nuclear weapons â€" and that lies along a strategic fault line where the interests of the United States, China, and Russia meet and often clash.â€
Much decision-making about the Korean Peninsula happens behind closed doors. Perhaps the best one can hope for is that some line of communication between diplomats in the region is opened. On that note, Swiss daily Le Temps revealed yesterday that amid all the sabre-rattling, North and South Korean diplomats were secretly meeting on the shores of Lake Geneva.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY (& WEEKEND)
- U.S. President Obama opens new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History (Saturday).
- Berlin Marathon (Sunday).
ONE VIDEO, TWO TALES
While police say a video of a black man, Keith Scott, being shot dead by law enforcement in Charlotte, North Carolina, shows that the shooting was justified, Scottâ€™s attorney says the victimâ€™s demeanor had been calm and not aggressive, and called for the video to be released to the public, local newspaper Charlotte Observer reports. The death has sparked ongoing protests in the city, though demonstrations last night were more peaceful than the previous nights.
Internet giant Yahoo said yesterday that â€œstate-sponsoredâ€ hackers stole personal data from half a billion of their users in 2014, Wired reports. The hack includes theft of email addresses, phone numbers, security questions and answers, and passwords. It is not clear if the breach could impact the recent $4.8 billion purchase of Yahoo by telecommunications giant Verizon.
â€" ON THIS DAY
This planet â€" the eighth from the Sun â€" was discovered 170 years ago today â€¦ Which is it? Hand on the buzzer, hereâ€™s your 57-second shot of history.
SYRIAN TRUCE COLLAPSES
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that heâ€™s no longer trying to salvage the Russia-U.S. brokered ceasefire in the war-torn nation. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Associated Press that the U.S. is to blame for the dealâ€™s collapse, saying that a deadly airstrike by a U.S.-led coalition on Syrian troops last weekend was intentional â€" accusations the U.S. has dismissed.
LIGHTS OUT IN PUERTO RICO
A massive blackout has hit the U.S. territory. See the bright front page of El Nuevo Dia.
20 MILLION/9 MILLION
A New York-based study finds that a Donald Trump presidency would cause about 20 million people to lose their healthcare coverage, while Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton would provide coverage for an additional 9 million people, AP reports.
Hundreds of atomic bombs were detonated at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in eastern Kazakhstan during the Soviet regime. For Russian daily Kommersant, Nataliya Nehlebova went to the now-abandoned Polygon facility, where scientists are conducting research to evaluate how radiation affected the region and its residents: â€œSheep and dogs used to be tethered while the bombs were tested. At the Polygon museum, you can see the flattened brown organs of these animals preserved in formaldehyde next to information stands about ruptures and bleeding. You can even press the very button that launched the first bombs. A phone next to the command post at the Polygon has a direct line to the Kremlin.â€
Read the full article, At Former Soviet Nuclear Test Site, â€œBest Not To Take Souvenirs.â€
NETANYAHU INVITES ABBAS TO JERUSALEMâ€™S KNESSET
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to address Israelâ€™s parliament, The Jerusalem Post reports. Netanyahu, who made the remarks in an address to the UN General Assembly in New York, added that he would â€œgladly come to speak peace with the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.â€
â€" MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
Here Comes The Calvary â€" Plougonven, 1987
When UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson proposed a timeline for official â€œBrexitâ€ negotiations to begin in early 2017, he was quickly slapped down by Prime Minister Theresa May, who has refused to say when talks on the countryâ€™s departure from the European Union should start. Most of all, May clearly used the opportunity to show whoâ€™s in charge.
MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH
- Women Who Rule The World Still Asked "Why Are You Childless?" â€" Die Welt
- Telecom Giant Ericsson To Close All Production In Sweden â€" Svenska Dagbladet
- Haitian Migrants Flock To Costa Rica To Flee Brazil Crisis â€" La Nación
IG NOBEL PRIZES
The 26th edition of the spoof scientific Ig Nobel prize ceremony was held last night at Harvard University. Winners include a study on the effects of wearing polyester on the sex life of rats, an assessment of the perceived personalities of rocks, and a â€œscientistâ€ who spent three days being a goat in the Swiss Alps.
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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