Occupy Liechtenstein? Popular Showdown With Monarchy In Europe's Richest Enclave

The Liechtenstein royal family has threatened to abandon the country if the public tries to limit their extensive range of powers. But leaving would force them to finally pay taxes on their billions.

Vaduz Castle, home to the Prince of Liechtenstein (Michael Gredenberg)
Vaduz Castle, home to the Prince of Liechtenstein (Michael Gredenberg)


Locals in the wealthy alpine enclave of Liechtenstein are as famously attached to their monarchy as they are to their mountains. But one of these looming fixtures now risks suddenly disappearing – and it's certainly not the Alps.

The 62-square-mile principality is currently embroiled in a heated debate over the powers of the royal family which, according to the Constitution, has long held the right to veto the verdict of any public consultation. A popular movement to limit royal authority has prompted threats by Crown Prince Alois, who rules alongside parliament in the constitutional monarchy, to actually pack up his crown and leave Liechtenstein for good.

The question first arose last September when Alois made it very clear during a public referendum on the legalization of abortion that – regardless of the outcome – he would not authorize abortions to be carried out in his country. Although the public ended up voting against legalized abortion, Alois's earlier vow to ignore the will of his people was not forgotten.

A petition drive was recently launched dubbed "Yes for your voice to count," calling for the results of public referendums to be protected from the monarchy's veto. Alois explained the family's stance during a speech at the opening of Parliament. "The royal family is only prepared to continue its political responsibilities if they have the necessary tools to do so. Otherwise, we will withdraw from political life completely."

Sigvard Wohlwend, spokesperson for the petition, says it's hard to imagine the family leaving - for many reasons, including financial ones. With an estimated fortune of nearly $5.5 billion, the royal family is exempt from taxes in Liechtenstein which means that leaving the country would come with a serious financial price, not to mention the humiliation of losing their status of European heads of state.

The campaigners now have just six weeks to collect the 1,500 signatures necessary to force a referendum on the issue. It's worth noting that the public vote would not threaten the range of other privileges the royal family enjoys, including the right to block criminal investigations, to veto any law voted by parliament, to dissolve the parliament itself and even to dismiss the government and reign by decree. Perhaps the royal family fears that this initial limitation would put their privileges on a slippery slope - and as mountain people, they know where that could lead.

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

Read the original article in full in French.

Photo - Michael Gredenberg

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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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