Shah's Widow Was Watching Rouhani Paris Visit Quite Closely

Farah Pahlavi, the third and last wife of the Shah of Iran
Farah Pahlavi, the third and last wife of the Shah of Iran

PARIS — When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his momentous visit to Paris last week, an unlikely resident of the French capital was watching his every move.

Farah Pahlavi, the 77-year-old widow of the Shah of Iran, told the Persian-language Kayhan newspaper she noted the irony "sitting hundreds of meters' away from the Elysée palace where Rouhani was being received by French President Francois Holllande, and where she and her husband, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had been fêted by several of Hollande's predecessors.

Nevertheless, Pahlavi said it was "good for Iran" that sanctions should end and that the country could purchase necessary items like airplane parts, reports Kayhan, the London-based spinoff of the conservative newspaper of the same name in Tehran. The publication is mostly run by exiled journalists and regularly criticizes the Iranian regime.

Iran's exiled former empress, who has property in several cities but spends much of her time in Paris, said she hoped "things will become better" for ordinary Iranians as sanctions unwind. Still, Pahlavi saw further irony in all the talk about modernizing Iran now: "Well, we already had modernity," she said, clearly referring to the Shah's policies in the 1960s and 1970s. "Some people were saying we had become too Westernized, or ... were going too fast." Now, she said, after Iranians had lived in "past centuries' under the Islamic Republic, "they want to modernize."

She said she hoped the delegation would "learn and take" a few things about freedom from Europe, like democracy, human rights and women's rights.

Pahlavi recently attended the funeral of her sister-in-law, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, who died in the south of France in January. The princess, once reviled by many Iranians as a symbol of Iran's corruption in the 1970s, was now less harshly recalled in most newspapers as a defender of women's rights. Some younger Iranians, no doubt comparing the condition of Iranian women now with the 1970s, paid their respect online to the princess.

The empress in 1961 with French President Charles de Gaulle â€" Source: Catherine Legrand, Jacques Legrand

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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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