WHILE YOU SLEPT

Tokyo Threatens, Damascus Advances, Shah’s Widow Speaks

Tokyo Threatens, Damascus Advances, Shah’s Widow Speaks

JAPAN THREATENS NORTH KOREA TO SHOOT DOWN ROCKET

Japan deployed destroyers in the Sea of Japan and missile batteries on land today, warning it would shoot down a satellite set to be launched soon by North Korea, The Japan Times reports. Pyongyang told United Nations agencies yesterday it would launch an "earth observation satellite" some time between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25. But Tokyo has described this as thinly disguised test of a long-range ballistic missile. South Korea also warned the North it would pay a “severe price” if the launch was to go ahead. Pyongyang claims it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program by launching rockets. Last month, tensions rose again in the region after North Korea claimed it carried out a fourth nuclear test.


SYRIAN ARMY ADVANCES ON ALEPPO, TALKS FADE

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, have advanced north of Aleppo and are now reportedly just a few kilometers from the rebel-held towns of Nubul and al-Zahraa, an area that safeguards a rebel supply route from Turkey into opposition-held parts of Aleppo, Al Jazeera reports. This latest offensive by the regime may be aimed at encircling the city, Syria’s largest, and the scene of some of the most violent clashes between various rebel groups and the Syrian army since the beginning of the war.

  • The government offensive could seriously jeopardize U.S.-led Syrian peace talks in Geneva, as intense Russian airstrikes have targeted U.S.-backed rebel groups in the past days.
  • “Russian strikes will not cease until we really defeat terrorist organisations like Jabhat al-Nusra. And I don't see why these air strikes should be stopped,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today at a news conference in Oman's capital Muscat, as Reuters reports. The comments came in response to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s call for Russia to suspend its airstrikes against opposition forces now that the talks had started.
  • “If there is a failure this time after we tried twice at conferences in Geneva, for Syria there will be no more hope. We must absolutely try to ensure that there is no failure,” United Nations mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura said yesterday.

FIRST SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED ZIKA CASE IN U.S.

A person reported yesterday to have the Zika virus in Texas was infected through sexual contact, rather than a mosquito bite, The New York Times reports. The patient had not travelled to any infected areas â€" notably Latin America â€" but their partner had returned from Venezuela. The transmission via sex is likely to complicate further plans to prevent the epidemic from spreading globally. Until now, the new wave was limited to transmission by Zika-carrying mosquitos. The virus is spreading further in Latin America, with about 1.5 million cases in Brazil, the country worst hit by the outbreak. Two cases were also confirmed in Australia as well as two others in Ireland, the BBC reports.


EXTRA!

What is this garden gnome giving the middle finger to, on Berlin-based daily Die Tageszeitung’s front page today? Check it out here, in our Extra! feature.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



VERBATIM

“The last thing in the world you’d want is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars in oil revenue,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Rome yesterday during a conference gathering 23 foreign ministers from countries forming the core of the anti-ISIS fight, The Washington Post reports. He was addressing concerns over the expansion of the jihadist organization in oil-rich Libya, where it is believed that ISIS fighters pushed out of Syria and Iraq are relocating. The possibility of a military intervention in Libya was brought up during the talks in Rome, though Kerry has ruled out U.S. involvement in the short term.


SNAPSHOT

Photo: Maxppp/ZUMA

Dozens of unexploded World War II shells were destroyed by a demining squad yesterday off the port of Marseille, in southern France. Last week, frogmen on a routine training mission discovered more than 50 such shells, all of which are being defused as part of a four-day operation, 20 minutes reports.


YEMEN ARMY NEARS CAPITAL

Yemen government forces, backed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, have continued gaining territory and capturing villages around the capital Sanaa since last week, as at least 40 Houthi rebels were killed in intense clashes northeast of Yemen's capital today, Al Jazeera reports.


SHAH’S WIDOW ON ROUHANI VISIT

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 third and last wife of the Shah of Iran. Read more about it from the Persian-language newspaper Kayhan, crunched into English in our Le Blog item.


15%

The web company Yahoo! is cutting its workforce by 15% as part of an "aggressive strategic plan" to return profitability, chief executive Marissa Mayer said in a statement released yesterday. This comes after the California-based company reported a $4.3 billion loss for 2015.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Groping women obviously isn't acceptable in the West, where decades of protest won more progressive cultural standards. But lost amid the furor is an understanding of refugee men's humiliation without work, money or a chance of integration, Till Briegleb writes for German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung: “What we must understand is that the gropers feel shame just as we do. Despite the hearty welcome that many received, it is nonetheless a fact that the situations in which single male refugees find themselves in are humiliating. Without money, work, social standing and knowledge of the local language, and while living in shipping containers or canvas tents on the periphery of town, these men have no chance on the dating market. And they are moreover battling our society's existing and growing dislike of Arab men. You don't have to share Islamic values or understand their sense of male honor to appreciate that theirs is a humiliating situation.”

Read the full article, In Germany, Migrant Shame And The Changing Meaning Of Groping.


ON THIS DAY


Remembering “the day the music died” in today’s shot of history.


HARRY POTTER GOES MANGA

A Japanese design company has released a series of manga renditions of Harry Potter characters: Check them out here.

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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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