U.S. AND CUBA MAKE HISTORY IN PANAMA
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met last night in Panama City in what represented the highest-level meeting between the two countries in more than 50 years. The meeting preceded the Summit of the Americas, which begins there today. A U.S. State Department official said Kerry and Rodriguez “had a lengthy and very constructive discussion,” The Washington Post reports. “The two agreed they made progress and that we would continue to work to resolve outstanding issues.” The presidents of both countries, Barack Obama and Raul Castro, will cross paths during the summit and are expected at a minimum to shake hand. They made a joint announcement in December that the U.S. and Cuba were normalizing ties.
Photo above: John O'Neill via Instagram
A tornado slammed the tiny Illinois town of Fairdale yesterday, killing one, injuring seven and causing significant damage.
PAKISTAN WON’T JOIN YEMEN COALITION
The Pakistan parliament passed a resolution today affirming the country’s “neutrality” in the Yemen conflict, Al Jazeera reports. The decision, presented by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, followed a week-long parliamentary session on the issue. But the resolution also expressed that Pakistan would “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Saudi Arabia, which is leading the coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
- Meanwhile, Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen yesterday, calling it a “genocide that can be prosecuted in international courts,” Reuters reports. “Riyadh will not emerge victorious in its aggression,” he added.
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also criticized the coalition, saying it was repeating errors committed in other parts of the Arab world where Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran back rival sides.
- This comes a day after Iran deployed two warships off Yemen’s coast to establish a military presence. Iran has also been accused of training and arming Houthi fighters in Yemen, though officials have denied it.
- Additional medical aid from the Red Cross reached the capital Sanaa today, France 24 reports. The cargo includes medicine and surgical tools.
ON THIS DAY
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published 90 years ago today. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
HILLARY TO ANNOUNCE SUNDAY
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will officially announce her 2016 presidential campaign on Twitter Sunday while on route to Iowa, a source told The Guardian. It is expected to be followed by a video and a tour beginning in the caucus state.
“I wanted to take revenge on those who ruined me,” Claudio Giardiello told police after killing three people in a Milan courthouse yesterday, La Repubblica reports. The 57-year-old man, who had been on trial for fraudulent bankruptcy, was arrested in a town 24 kilometers away after fleeing on a motorcycle. He killed his lawyer, a co-defendant and a judge.
As Le Temps’ Marie-Laure Chapatte reports, Pascal Bourquin will be 75 years old when he reaches his goal of walking every Swiss hiking trail, the equivalent of circling the earth twice. “Of course, the mountain climber and journalist has reached many summits in his career and knows the dangers they entail,” Chapatte writes. “Among his accomplishments is the ultra marathon la Petite Trotte à Léon, a grueling six-day mountain race. The PTL, as it's more commonly known, has demonstrated that Pascal was, and is, not invincible. He failed twice, forced to stop after giant blisters formed on his feet. But he was persistent. Last September, he finished the race after 135 hours of pain and exertion.”
Read the full article, This Man Is Hiking Every Mountain In Switzerland.
GREECE REPAYS IMF, GETS EXTRA LOAN
Greece made a crucial payment to the International Monetary Fund and obtained extra emergency lending for its banks yesterday, but it remained unclear whether the country can satisfy skeptical creditors with economic reforms before it runs out of money, Reuters reports.
Japanese authorities and volunteers are working today to save at least 149 melon-headed whales, a type of dolphin usually found in deep waters, that have been found beached along a 10-kilometer stretch of shore, Japan Today reports. Despite frantic efforts, a number of the dolphins have died. Others, who had been returned to the water, have been pushed back onto shore by the tide.
31 DEAD IN MOROCCO BUS ACCIDENT
At least 31 people were killed and nine were wounded in a collision between a bus and a truck today near the southern Moroccan town of Tan-Tan, news agency MAP reports. The bus was reportedly transporting young athletes and their coach, who were returning from a competition.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
North Korean school children are going to be taught a host of baloney about their dictator Kim Jong-un, including that he learned to drive at age 3, as part of a new school subject dedicated to his life and “revolutionary works.”
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.
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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