LES ECHOS

A Hollywood Pig, The Weinstein Scandal Viewed From France

Le Porc in Cannes in 2012
Le Porc in Cannes in 2012
Tori Otten

PARIS — According to an ever expanding list of accusers, Harvey Weinstein has been sexually harassing and assaulting women for decades. As of Friday, 28 women have come forward to denounce the mogul, including some of Hollywood's most celebrated stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, who fended off his advances early in their careers. Rose McGowan accused Weinstein of rape in a series of tweets on Thursday, while investigators pursue criminal cases in New York and London.

Also on the list are a number of European actresses, including France's Florence Darel, Judith Godrèche, Emma de Caunes, and Léa Seydoux, as the scandal continues to make headlines around the world.

Though the French film industry is often held up as the singular rival to Hollywood, Weinstein was a relatively well-known figure in France, particularly after producing (and brilliantly promoting) the Oscar-winning feature The Artist in 2011.

Indeed, the "worst-kept" secret of his abusive pursuit of women also followed him across the Atlantic, where Le Monde reports that he was known at the Cannes Film Festival by the nickname "le porc" (the pig).

The revelations of the past week were bound to be viewed differently in France, where sex scandals inevitably reveal cultural differences with the United States. Paris, after all, has been the longtime base for Roman Polanski, who has been able to simply go on with his life (and award-winning film career) even after he was convicted in 1977 of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles. There was also the reaction in former IMF-chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's being accused of rape, which was more confused and mildly mortified for a powerful man's reputation than outraged.

French daily Libération"s Oct. 12 front page

Still, though sure to never reveal prudishness in the face of sexual misbehavior, the French appear duly stunned by the Weinstein scandal. In a recent interview with Le Parisien, French film director Tonie Marshall said that the sheer scale of abuse at the top echelon of the industry would not happen in France, where the filmmaking is largely supported by public entities, and box office receipts are not necessarily the ultimate measure of success.

"In France, there isn't a single producer in our industry who would be in this all-powerful, kingmaker-like position," said Marshall, who was born and raised in France and is the daughter of an iconic French actress and an American film producer. "With this type of thing, it's always a question of exercising power over another person." And for Weinstein, sex was an offshoot of seemingly limitless power across an entire industry, over the course of decades.

The word "mogul" has its origins in India, but its modern manifestation is something particularly linked to the U.S. The way a sex-obsessed Weinstein abused his ever-growing industry might in front of people trying to pursue their own professional ambitions is, indeed, a disturbing plotline made for Hollywood. It is a reminder that this American scandal isn't only about sex and power, but also economics.

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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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