MOSCOW — In a small town outside the capital, 15-year-old boys live in barracks with soldiers. They march in formation, memorize army regulations and sing songs in unison.
“After our camp, young men aren’t afraid of hazing,” says Vladimir Prixodko, the camp director, referring to a persistent problem in the Russian army that has scared off potential new recruits.
Prixodko's camp costs $500 per session, and includes kids from the U.S. and Holland — the children of emigrants who have settled in Russia. Last year the camp was full: 200 young men attended over four separate sessions. This year, the organizers are planning to expand even more.
This is not your classic "Kumbaya" and bonfires type of summer camp. But who wants that kind of thing anymore anyway? Why should children spend the summer having fun when they could be off learning valuable working skills? Summer soldiering is one option for Russian parents. But there are plenty of others to choose from as well.
In 2007, Yekaterina Golubeva, a journalist from St. Petersburg, bought a house in a tiny, rundown village called Gostilovo. Wanting to improve her new hometown, Golubeva thought of a project for the local park, the only thing left of a regal home that had once been in the village center. She signed a 49-year lease for the park for $40 per year, and did a crowd-funding campaign to buy a tiller. Since 2012, families have come with children to volunteer to clean up the park.
“I think that kids today don’t get enough meaningful labor,” Golubeva says.
Aleksei Stolyarov, the owner of a tourism company, has a similar program in the village he’s lived in for the past 10 years. Entire families have signed up to come to Stolyarov’s village, beginning in May, to build a playground, repair the roads and plant trees.
Song and dance
Andrei Bogdanov, who runs an acting school for children and teens, bringing together aspiring filmmakers at the seaside in Bulgaria, got inspiration for his summer camp from an Italian film festival (CinemadaMare — "Cinema of the Sea").
Bogdanov didn’t organize it all on his own — he offered the camp to tour agencies. Last year just 15 kids participated, but this year enrollment is up to 30. The camp includes master-classes on professions related to the movie business, and the kids will be required to create their own film as a final project. “I wanted to make a camp that would have been interesting to me as a 12- or 15-year-old,” Bogdanov explains.
Irbis, a dance and theater school for children and teens, will offer a summer camp for kids to put on shows from Kipling and Chekov. “Parents were begging us to open a summer camp,” says the school’s co-owner, Zakhar Tsura. “They wanted their kids to be studying something that they loved over the summer."
Meanwhile, the large central Russian city of Novosibirsk is becoming not only the nation's hub for sciences, but also for the modeling business, with nine agencies in the city for aspiring models.
Last year, Dmitrii Kolesnikov, who works in the industry, started a summer camp for child models. At first there were just 20 kids, who studied how to walk on the catwalk, how to act and choreography, and finished the camp with a portfolio. This year Siberian Top Model is planning to accept 40 to 60 child models. A photo session on yacht and meetings with top models are also on the agenda. Anyone can attend: there are no restrictions based on looks.
The possibilities for children to attend a specialized summer camp are almost endless: There are camps for girls to learn how to sew and cook, and camps for geeks to work on robotics projects.
The only type of summer camp that seems to be hard to find is the old-fashioned variety, where kids just swim, hike and hang out with friends. When there are grown-up marketable skills to be acquired, summer fun has become a serious waste of time.
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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