KOMMERSANT

In Russia, A Deadly Sewer Collapse Exposes Serious Infrastructure Decay

The recent drowning of a toddler in Bryansk has turned national attention to the city's decrepit sewer system. But Russia’s infrastructure problems are nationwide. At least 10 cave-ins – like the one that killed 18-month-old Kiril Didenko – have

An 18-month-old baby died after he was sucked into this sewer hole with his mother.
An 18-month-old baby died after he was sucked into this sewer hole with his mother.
Yelena Vorobeva

BRYANSK -- Earlier this month, Tatyana Didenko, 26, was strolling down the sidewalk in the southwestern Russian city of Bryansk, pushing her toddler son in his stroller. Suddenly, the ground below her feet gave way, dropping the mother and 18-month-old Kiril into a fetid abyss.

By her own account, Tatyana fell about 20 meters with the stroller into a sewer pipe. Fighting a strong current, she forced her way back to the opening and thus barely avoided being sucked deeper into the sewer system and drowning. Standing nearby were several people who knew the woman. They called her husband, Vladimir Didenko, the ranking lieutenant on the local police force, who was working about three kilometers away.

He arrived minutes later. On his way, Vladimir stopped other drivers, looking for ropes. When he arrived at the scene, he secured himself with the ropes and went in to pull out his wife. A couple minutes later, the rescue operation finally succeeded, and Tatyana, with the stroller she was still holding, was pulled to freedom. Only when she was freed from the sewer did she realize her son, Kiril, was no longer in the stroller.

For the next 27 hours, 16 special brigades, around 500 people in total, searched for the child in 59 different manholes along the eight-kilometer-long sewer system. At around 5 p.m. the following day Kiril's lifeless body finally appeared.

"That is my daughter and grandson who fell through the ground!" Kiril's grandmother said, gesticulating angrily. "We are always hearing on the television about how they put a billion rubles here and a billion rubles there. So why do we have roads that children fall through and die?"

Tragedy waiting to happen

A week later, repairs are underway to fix the old concrete sewer that swallowed Kiril. There's a loud rumbling sound as construction workers operate a specialized machine to replace the crumbling sewer pipes with new plastic ones. The repairs were supposed to have happened more than 20 years ago. Nearby are several New Year's trees. In Russia, decorated pine trees are put up for New Year's, not Christmas. Hanging from one of the trees is a photograph of the drowned baby, who smiles down on the pipes and the civil servants working to replace them.

Across the street from the square is the cemetery, where another tragedy could easily have happened. Ditches dug there revealed exposed, corroded pipes. The city's sewer director, standing at the side of the ditch, refused to answer questions about the tragedy, complaining that he was busy and had already been approached 28 times by the media.

But what is really going on? The local director of the state-owned sewer company, it turns out, issued a warning two years ago that the pipes were extremely outdated and needed to be replaced immediately. But the city, which is chronically short on money, says it could not afford to replace the sewer system. A sewer upgrade had been planned in 1987, but the city never followed through.

Over the course of the search operation, the city discovered that holes in the sewer pipes are widespread, and that another accident, with more victims, is possible.

It's still not clear what exactly this tragedy will change for Bryansk, although people in the city report that they are checking under their feet much more carefully. Three city officials have since resigned, and the regional utilities' chief has been fired. But that does not mean that the city will be forced to take a more proactive stance on sewer repairs. Bryansk's approximately 400,000 residents may just have to live with the threat of being swallowed up by the earth at any moment.

What's perhaps even more disturbing is that this isn't the first time a sewer hole has swallowed up Russians. There have been at least 10 similar instances across Russia in the past two years, including one last August, when a Hyundai fell through a road during heavy rain in the city of Samara. The driver died.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - cafehangout

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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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