Congolese Women Take Action Against 'Revenge Porn'

Compromising pictures and videos taken with cell phones constitute a new kind of cyber-criminality in Bas-Congo
Compromising pictures and videos taken with cell phones constitute a new kind of cyber-criminality in Bas-Congo
Paul Durand

MATADI — It’s one of the Internet revolution’s more twisted novelties. Men ready to do anything to get back at the girlfriend who left them or whom they suspect of cheating on them post naked photos or sex videos on social networks. And now, so-called “revenge porn” has also arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the northern town of Matadi, a young woman from the northern town of Matadi was victimized when her partner published a nude photo of her online. After creating a Facebook account in the name of his girlfriend without her knowledge, the man uploaded a photo of her that he took during sex. “He did it to punish her because he thought she’d been unfaithful,” a friend of the couple says.

But like others, the young woman filed a criminal complaint with the help of a local women’s group, and the man has been held for two months in a Matadi jail awaiting trial.

“Even if a woman has been unfaithful, she doesn’t deserve this,” says Annie Mbadu, an official with the group Women and Development. “How many men have never cheated on their girlfriend? By doing so, they disgrace and objectify all women.”

During a meeting last month at Matadi’s “Maison de la Femme” (a regional women’s center), local women spoke out about what one characterized as “cyber-criminality.”

“Uploading a nude photo online, even if it is an act of vengeance, is an offense and a sign of weakness. No woman deserves to be humiliated in such a way by a man,” one woman said. “The law must be severely enforced.”

Cherine Luzaisu, a lawyer and president of the Association for Woman Lawyers in Congo (AFEJUCO), says such violations can be considered as indecent assault, violation of human dignity or invasion of privacy, which are punishable by the Congolese penal code, bringing sentences of up to five years.

The necessity of being vigilant

With the spread of technology, couples increasingly photograph or videotape themselves in intimate situations. But when these relationships take a turn for the worse, these private moments all too often find their way onto social networks. “It’s a way for them to take revenge. These women must learn to be responsible,” one young man in Matadi says.

But Didienne Bunga, head of division of the Congolese Ministry of Gender, Child and Family, says such unauthorized sharing of images can cause irreparable damage.

“It’s cowardly. It’s a form of violence against women,” she says. “These women mustn’t remain silent. They must press charges.”

But the best way for women to avoid such situations is never to allow such images in the first place. “They should avoid having their picture taken in intimate situations,” Annie Mbadu warns. “You never know when the relationship may turn sour.”

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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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