CORDOBA - A scruffy Argentine mutt named Capitán has taken the old adage “man’s best friend” to new extremes. The dog, a mix of German shepherd and who knows what else, has spent the past five years living in the cemetery where his owner is buried. And like clockwork, every day at 6 p.m. Capitán lies down on his departed master’s grave.
The story of Miguel and Capitán began in mid 2005, when Miguel, despite the misgivings of his wife Verónica, brought the dog home as a gift for his now 13-year-old son, Damián Guzmán. The family lives in Villa Carlos Paz, a city in the north of Córdoba province.
The following year, on March 24, 2006, Miguel passed away in the Villa Carlos Paz hospital. Capitán also left the house. He lived out in the street for a while, just a few meters away. But then he disappeared altogether.
It was by chance that the Guzmáns found him again. Verónica and Damián went to the cemetery to pay their respects to Miguel. And there was Capitán. Damián recognized his pet immediately. “He started shouting that Capitán was there. And then the dog came over to us, barking, as if he were crying,” Verónica told the Córdoba daily La Voz. But when it was time for the mother and son to leave the cemetery, Capitán wouldn’t budge, despite being called.
A week later, Verónica and Damián returned to the cemetery. The dog was still there. This time Capitán did leave with them, walking with the Guzmáns back to their home. “He stayed with us in the house for a while, but then he went back to the cemetery,” said Verónica.
Héctor Baccega, the director of the Villa Carlos Paz cemetery, has a clear memory of the day he met Capitán. “He showed up all alone, and wandered all around the cemetery until, all by himself, he reached his owner’s grave. And that’s not all,” said Baccega. “Every day, at six, he goes over and lies down on the grave. He’s with me every day walking around the cemetery, but when it’s time, he goes over there, where his master’s tomb is.”
The Guzmán family insists they never took Capitán to the cemetery, so it is a mystery how he ever found it. Marta, who sells flowers at the cemetery, says she first saw Capitán in 2007. He had a broken leg. She took him to a vet, who gave him anti-inflammatory medication and put his leg in a cast. After that he just stayed around the cemetery. “You can see he really loved his owner, ” said Marta. “Sometimes he goes back home, but he always returns. Many times his family wanted to take him, but then he comes back here.”
It was hard at first, but Damián now accepts the situation. “I tried to take him home several times, but he goes back to the cemetery. If that’s where he wants to be, that’s OK with me. He’s looking after my dad.”
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.
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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