Sources

A Motel Room Inspired By Brazil's Anti-Corruption Probe

The room  is an ode to Operation Lava Jato
The room is an ode to Operation Lava Jato
Bela Megale

BRASILIA — There's always something a bit risqué about Brazil's many short-stay "motels," where couples can pay by the hour and aren't all that concerned, usually, with getting a good night's sleep. But even by those standards, Room 8 in Brasilia's Altana Motel stands out.

Fitted with metal bars on the door and around the bed, the room — inaugurated three months ago — is an ode to Operation Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), an anti-corruption probe into political kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras. The provocative decor is a gamble for the motel, where each room has a different theme in an effort to attract customers.

Before you reach the Lava Jato room, you have to walk through an entrance with concrete walls, bars and press clippings from articles about the ongoing scandal. The point is to make you feel like you're entering a prison cell. The clippings feature pictures of people connected to the operation, including presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff and the former head of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, who is currently being held at Curitiba prison. A portrait of prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, coordinator of the Lava Jato task force in the state of Parana, hangs on the wall.

A two-hour stay in the room costs between 126 and 156 reais ($40 to $50) depending on the day. "What we're offering is a sophisticated cell so the act of love can take place in a special environment, sort of like a fetish, right?" says Cristina Bertozzi, the architect of the project. She's already decorated more than 150 motel rooms in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, the Brazilian capital.

"Given the events, and the fact that this Lava Jato name has been constantly whispered into people's ears for more than two years, we decided to bring together crime, corruption and a prison cell," she says.

The setting, however, has already sparked complaints. "Some people asked, "How am I supposed to have an erection with these people's pictures on the wall?" But you're not supposed to have an erection here, on the doorstep. This is just a transition to the bedroom. The idea was to create an environment at the entrance so clients can understand they're about to enter a prison cell and that's where they can enjoy the luxury," the architect explains.

The room is decorated with crystal chandeliers, faux crocodile furniture, wallpaper that looks like leather, gilded mirrors, and a bathtub with a massage setting. A huge poster of the Eiffel Tower is glimpsed through metal bars. Bertozzi says the picture was chosen "because Paris conveys the idea of great sophistication, of a warm, elegant place."

"It replicates a luxurious prison," she says, adding that country-themed rooms are so passé. "The establishment now wants to put its money on more specific themes for clients to develop their fetishes."

The Lava Jato room isn't the top choice for customers just yet. Owner Célia Regina Borges says that people are getting to know it and that those who've experienced it so far have praised it. "They say it's very beautiful, sophisticated."

The renovation cost the motel 15,000 reais (about $5,000). Asked whether she truly believes that those who've been imprisoned in relation to Operation Lava Jato have access to such luxury, Bertozzi says, "They would like that, wouldn't they? But they don't deserve it."


*This article was originally written in Portuguese by Worldcrunch iQ expert contributor Bela Megale. It was translated by iQ language contributor Marc Alves.

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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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