BUENOS AIRES - They're the daughters of Argentina's upper class, and they go to the most prestigious and traditional high schools in the country.
Today, the differences in school curriculum for boys and girls are shrinking, and the social role that girls “are expected” to meet is being tied increasingly to the values imparted to them by their families -- rather than to what their schools teach them to be.
They go to private high schools: usually Catholic, bilingual, with international exams, music recitals in English and well-manicured sports fields.
Sofia, 26, went to Michael Ham Memorial College, a girls-only school. She says of the experience: "While it's a traditional school that aims to bring different values to help form a person’s identity, it gives a lot of importance to the educational role of each family. No school defines a person completely or is the ‘definitive learning’ in life. Also, the social standing of the people who attend these schools is quite defined, higher middle class, so the families have more or less the same values."
Compared to past years, there aren't as many gender differences visible in the curriculum presented in the elite educational institutions. Sandra Ziegler, a researcher at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLASCO) and author of The Education Of Elites: An Approach To The Socialization Of Young People From Advantaged Areas In Argentina Today, explains: "In academic terms, there are no visible differences between boys and girls. But now that we are digging a little deeper into the day-to-day life of the school, we might probably find that messages and curriculum do indeed differ according to gender.”
Sofia concurs: "I don't feel that traditional schools are encouraging women to be obedient housewives anymore. On the contrary, these schools encourage young women to play an active role in society. It's a paradigm that is being seen now but it was the opposite for our parents’ generations."
Catalina, 17, is finishing at Carmen Arriola de Marín high school in December. "The differences between boys and girls are in sports. The girls play hockey and the boys rugby," she says matter-of-factly.
Another enduring difference is the uniforms. Boys wear trousers while the girls wear skirts, even on the coldest days of winter. Whether it’s on purpose or not, it’s emblematic of woman’s “supposed role,” which is something from another era. Although, Catalina says, in her school when it's very cold they can wear tracksuits.
University courses that are chosen at the end of school are much more varied nowadays. Sofia says: "There are economists, lawyers, doctors, designers, journalists, communicators. I’m also seeing more and more girls who chose professions in healthcare or social work. But this is not so much about the traditional role of women than it is about personal values.”
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.
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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