As Rome Recovers From Record Blizzard, Nearby Small Towns Still Snowed In, Isolated

As a cold snap covers much of Europe, the Italian capital was hit with record snowfall over the weekend, but is largely cleared of major disruptions. But surrounding towns, which were hit with even more snow and strong winds, have been largely cut off fro

Rome was hit with its first major snow storm in 26 years (msako23)
Rome was hit with its first major snow storm in 26 years (msako23)
Niccolò Zancan

SAN VITO ROMANO - Lost dogs wander by as a few crows pick around at a small stretch of road cleared of snow. By what's most striking is the utter silence amid the pine trees and collapsed electricity lines across the Aniene valley. Two days and two nights have produced one full meter of snow, shutting off this stretch of countryside just east of Rome and knocking out power, as locals wait impatiently for the first emergency workers to arrive.

As Rome recovered from its first major snowstorm in a generation, nearby were forgotten towns: Sambuci, Colle Passero, Ciciliano, San Vito Romano. These places of vineyards, olive trees and shepherds like Mauro Rossi in the isolated village of Pisoniano who lost all his lambs under the collapsed roof of his farmhouse. But he must wait for someone to come and help, since he cannot dig out the ruins all by himself. "But no one is coming here, no one!" his friend Pietro D'Orazzi shouts. "We can't even go to buy some food. The bread is finished. Is this possible in 2012?"

We meet him on a road where it is still possible to walk by. He is trying to get to a neighbor, Anna, who needs help with her dialysis treatment. "We need to hurry up, otherwise…"

No light, no heating, no mobile phones. People sleeping beside their stoves and fireplaces. Giulio Boschi, a 73-year-old former broker, slept under nine blankets: "The water is finished too, damn it!"

Thirty-two little villages that are typically just a short drive from the capital, but are now cut off from everything. Not far from San Vito, on the provincial road covered with snow and fallen branches, three young Romanians, Ciprian, Ovidio and Lupu, are trying to open a passage with their bare hands. "Tomorrow we need to work, we can't lose a working day," they tell us.

Beyond the roadway, just to look at it, the landscape appears enchanted. Immaculate forests. The scent of fresh air. But only the ones who can go away when night falls can see the poetry in the scenery. "We are freezing" says wine merchant Guido Corradini. "For the past two days, we've been forced to manage everything in the old-fashioned way".

Several kids gather outside, each of them busy shoveling. "The worst thing is that we've lost many trees. The best thing is skipping school," says 16-year-old Alessandro Denni. They are organizing groups of people to reach other villages, friends or relatives, where they can find hot water for a much-needed shower.

Pietro Moscardini is the mayor of Vallinfreda, but he also spent a 35-year career working for Italy's Civil Protection agency. He is not impressed by the response to this emergency. "We need means. We need money. The coordination concerning this emergency has been inefficient," he says bitterly. "This is the poorest part of the Lazio region, a land forgotten by God and by man. That's why we always have to with what we've got."

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo - Msako23

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!