RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL BEGINS IN SYRIA
After yesterdayâ€™s unexpected announcement from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian armed forces have begun to withdraw from Syria on the civil warâ€™s fifth anniversary. A first group of warplanes has already left its Syrian base for Russia, the Defense Ministry said. â€œThe main task now is to take every measure to promote a peace settlement and talks that have begun in Geneva,â€ the Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters. But Russia explained that it would keep its long-range S-400 air defense missiles on the ground.
- The withdrawal surprised many, including Süddeutsche Zeitung reporter Stefan Kornelius, who writes today that â€œall logic speaks against Russiaâ€™s decision.â€ The move comes as the Syrian war enters its sixth year and after a new round of peace negotiations began between the Syrian government and the opposition. The UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura described Russiaâ€™s decision as a â€œsignificant development, which we hope will have a positive impact on the progress of the negotiations in Geneva.â€
- Russiaâ€™s withdrawal could potentially embolden terrorist groups, which arenâ€™t part of an otherwise fragile ceasefire there. A commander of al-Nusra Front told AFP that Putinâ€™s move illustrates that â€œRussia has suffered defeat, and within the next 48 hours Nusra will launch an offensive in Syria.â€
- See todayâ€™s front page of Moscow-based Vedomosti in our Extra! feature.
SUPER TUESDAY 2
Today marks another crucial voting day in the U.S. with primaries in five states: Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. Whatâ€™s being dubbed as â€œSuper Tuesday 2â€ could prove to be make-or-break time for Republican candidates John Kasich and Marco Rubio, according to Bloomberg. On the Democratic side, recent polls suggest that Bernie Sanders is closing in on Hillary Clinton in the industrial Midwest, though the former Secretary of State is expected to win big in Florida and North Carolina. Read more from The Washington Post.
An â€œunhealthy environmentâ€ was responsible for 12.6 million deaths worldwide in 2012, almost a quarter of the total number of deaths for that year, a new report from the World Health Organization says. â€œIf countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young,â€ said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
MACEDONIA RETURNS REFUGEES TO GREECE
Most of the desperate refugees who crossed into Macedonia from Greece yesterday have been taken back across the border, Reuters reports, putting the number at 600. An estimated 12,000 to 14,000 migrants have been stranded on the Greek side of the border since Balkan states decided to close their borders, and at least three people died yesterday while attempting to cross into Macedonia.
Photo: Juan Boites/ZUMA
Facing the worst air pollution in a decade, Mexico City authorities have advised people to stay indoors due to an â€œextraordinary increaseâ€ in ozone concentration.
POPE APPROVES MOTHER TERESA SAINTHOOD
Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be canonized Sept. 4 in a ceremony that will conclude the Vatican jubilee for â€œworkers and volunteers of mercy,â€ Pope Francis announced.
An Argentine newspaper asks if the founder of the now-closed, ultra-famous El Bulli restaurant in Catalonia is the Lionel Messi of the culinary world. Thatâ€™s not how superstar chef Ferran Adria sees it, Clarin reports. â€œUsing food as a fulcrum, the 53-year-old chef managed in just a few years to bring about a anthropological and cultural transformation. He earned three Michelin stars in the process and knocked France off the culinary throne it had occupied for more than a century. Then, in July 2011, he shut El Bulli down.â€ Adria answers questions from the newspaper, and explains why he shuttered his famous restaurant.
Read the full article, Superstar Chef Ferran Adria Shares His Secret Ingredient.
MYANMAR CHOOSES NEW PRESIDENT
Myanmarâ€™s parliament has elected Htin Kyaw, a close confidant of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the countryâ€™s biggest party, Aung San Suu Kyi, as the first non-military president in 53 years, Myanmar Times reports. Though she couldnâ€™t take the job herself, Suu Kyi has made it clear she intends to lead the government â€œabove the president.â€
ON THIS DAY
The Godfather premiered on this day in 1972. More in todayâ€™s 57-second shot of history.
LULA TO ACCEPT MINISTER JOB
Former Brazilian President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva is poised to accept a minister job in his successor Dilma Rousseffâ€™s government, sources close to Rousseff told Folha de S. Paulo. The two are expected to meet tomorrow, and the still popular Lula could take over as chief of staff or as secretary of the government. The newspaper characterizes it as a win-win for both leaders: Lula, who could run for the top job again in 2018, would be protected from prosecution in the ongoing Petrobras corruption scandal, and Rousseff would likely fend off impeachment attempts.
â€œI asked Dalton what made him get his gun tonight, and he said the Uber app made him,â€ an investigator working on the Jason Dalton case wrote in his report. Dalton, a 45 year-old Uber driver accused of killing six people in Kalamazoo on Feb. 20, told Michigan police that the Uber app had taken over his â€œbody and mindâ€ and made him â€œfeel like a puppet.â€
BREIVIK MAKES NAZI SALUTE IN COURT
Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik returned to court this morning, this time as a plaintiff, accusing the government of breaching two clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights by keeping him in isolation. As he arrived in court, the man who killed 77 people in 2011 raised his right arm in a Nazi salute.
MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
ISRAELI FINDS RARE ROMAN COIN
Israeli Hiker Laurie Rimon recently found a 2,000-year-old Roman gold coin at an archaeological site in Galilee. The coin bears the portrait of Emperor Augustus, and the only other known version of it is on display at the British Museum. Read more from The Jerusalem Post.
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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