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VW Scandal Widens, More U.S. China Sea Patrols, Flaming Parachute

VW Scandal Widens, More U.S. China Sea Patrols, Flaming Parachute

U.S. PLANS MORE SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS

The U.S. will continue conducting patrols near artificial Chinese islands in the disputed South China Sea, Reuters quoted a U.S. defense official as saying yesterday. The official said patrols would happen about twice a quarter, describing that as “the right amount to make it regular but not a constant poke in the eye. It meets the intent to regularly exercise our rights under international law and remind the Chinese and others about our view.” These comments come a week after a U.S. warship sailed close to a Chinese island in the region, sparking tension and harsh words between Beijing and Washington.


VERBATIM

“The speculation that this plane was brought down by a missile is off the table,” a U.S. Defense official told NBC News late Monday about the Russian aircraft that crashed Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 passengers on board. This comes as a U.S. infrared satellite detected a “heat flash” above Egypt’s Sinai at the time of crash. The satellite imagery reportedly rules out the possibility of a surface-to-air missile attack. Another official said “there was an explosion of some kind.” Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the BBC that ISIS claims that it had brought down the plane were “propaganda.”


GERMAN SOCCER FEDERATION RAIDED

German police raided the headquarters of the German Football Association (DFB) today in Frankfurt as well as the homes of the organization’s president Wolfgang Niersbach and his predecessor Theo Zwanziger over tax fraud allegations linked to the 2006 World Cup, Die Welt reports. This follows claims last month that the association’s World Cup organizing committee transferred 6.7 million euros to FIFA to secure votes. The DFB denied the accusations.


SNAPSHOT

Photo: Clinton Wallace/Globe Photos/ZUMA

Snoopy, the world’s favorite beagle, now has a star on the Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, right next to that of his creator, Charles M. Schulz.


TWO INDIAN SOLDIERS DEAD IN KASHMIR CLASH

The Pakistani military killed two Indian soldiers Monday in Kashmir’s Bandipora district, along the de facto border between the two countries, The Hindu reports. The two soldiers could have been hit by mortar or a rocket fired at an Indian army installation, but BBC reports said Pakistani troops may have fired machine guns or grenades. Pakistan and India have both claimed Kashmir for more than 60 years, with the sides often accusing the other of unprovoked firing along the border, despite a 2003 ceasefire. Monday’s incident came days before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set to visit the disputed.


VW SCANDAL INCLUDES PORSCHE, AUDI MODELS

High-end Porsche and Audi diesel cars were also equipped with devices designed to cheat emissions tests, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada claim in a report published Monday. Cars with 3.0-litre engines from the years 2014 to 2016 were apparently affected, including the 2014 VW Touareg, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L and Q5.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

When the landfill servicing Beirut closed, garbage collection stopped. Now the suburbs have been left quite literally holding the bag, and government solutions aren’t coming, Laure Stephan reports for Le Monde. “More than three months after Beirut's garbage crisis began, Baabda â€" also home to the Presidential Palace, which has been empty for almost 18 months because of the country's political crisis â€" is one of the capital’s many suburbs that can’t get rid of its trash. In mid-July, the landfill that serviced Beirut closed. The government planned no solution, so Sukleen, the private company contracted to collect the garbage and whose contract was about to end, simply stopped its activities. The streets in the capital were instantly filled with trash, at the peak of summer heat.”

Read the full article, Beirut Garbage Crisis, When Bad Politics Begets Bad Ecology.


RWANDA MANIPULATED POVERTY FIGURES

Rwandan authorities manipulated the country’s latest official poverty statistics, making them appear to go down, sources have told France 24. According to the Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, poverty levels have decreased significantly in the country. But Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian expert on Rwanda, claims the poverty rate actually increased by 6%.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



PISTORIUS MURDER APPEAL BEGINS

South African prosecutors launched an appeal hearing this morning on whether athlete Oscar Pistorius should be convicted of murder instead of culpable homicide, the Daily Sun reports. Pistorius was released under house arrest last month after serving one year of his five-year prison sentence for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.


ON THIS DAY


Anna Wintour and Godzilla, side by side in today’s 57-second shot of history.


VETERAN IRAQI POLITICIAN AHMED CHALABI DIES

Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi politician who played a key role in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and who headed the parliament’s finance committee, died today of a heart attack at his home in Baghdad at the age of 71, Al Jazeera reports.


BURNING YOUR PARACHUTE

Sometimes skydiving just isn’t enough and you have to get out your flare gun and set fire to your parachute like expand=1] this Arizona flight instructor did. Fortunately, she had a second parachute and landed safely.

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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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

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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