Is This My Country? On A Rome Bus, An Awful Question Answered In Perfect Italian

Being born in Italy doesn't guarantee you citizenship. For those who grew up children of immigrants, proving you deserve a passport can be like a bus ride to nowhere.

Italy's modern immigration is entering the second generation.
Italy's modern immigration is entering the second generation.
Flavia Amabile

ROME - It is 6 a.m. and the No. 437 bus is jam-packed with faces from all over the world. Their roots are from distant corners – from the Philippines to Morocco, Uganda to Bosnia. But then you hear them talk, and you catch the unmistakable rise and fall of perfect Italian.

They are Italian, but the state does not recognize this fact. They were born and/or raised in Italy, but without citizenship -- and therefore without rights.

The 437's passengers are all laden with papers: documents proving their Italian-ness. The more sheets of paper they have, the higher their hopes are of making it this time. None of them have a car, taking the 437 bus from the last stop of the metro to the Immigration Office, a massive building on the eastern outskirts of Rome. The bus drives an endless circular route, mirroring the fate of many of its passengers.

Maurizio, 18, was born in Italy, with all his school certificates and vaccination certificates to prove it. The problem is that when he was little, his parents rented an apartment without a contract, and so he has no proof of his residency: “It is as though every day I commuted to school from Senegal to Rome.”

Their heroes are soccer stars Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy who, like them, have roots elsewhere in the world but grew up in this country still struggling to accept those who have different colored skin or whose parents speak foreign languages. They are their heroes, not just because they are great footballers, but because they have Italian citizenship – that magic sheet of paper which, although it cannot protect them from the most insistent racists, at least makes life much simpler. Those without it are condemned to a shapeless, endless limbo.

My life is here

Vesna, 28, is in exactly this situation. In Italy since the age of seven when her parents fled from the war in Bosnia, Vesna now finds herself an illegal alien in her own country: “I want to stay here. My friends are here, my life is here. I remember very little about Bosnia.”

Unaware that the request for citizenship had to be made within a year of turning 18, she missed the deadline. She has had to jump through countless hoops to obtain annual residency permits in order to continue her studies, and now she is fighting for a permanent one.

Of course, the law offers a semblance of clarity and certainty. It states that at 18 years of age, a person can obtain Italian citizenship if one parent is already Italian, or if they can prove that they have lived in Italy permanently for at least 10 years. Exactly. If they can prove it. Not everyone can.

In 2011, out of the hundreds of thousands of people who had the right to citizenship, only 56,000 obtained it, according to figures from the Catholic association Caritas. Many of the others got trapped in the workings of a bureaucratic machine that is more like a lottery than a system of rights.

It is pure luck of the draw as to whether you manage to become Italian, or whether you are forever doomed to go back and forth on Bus 437...

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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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