BEIJING - Men conquer women by conquering the world; women conquer the world by conquering men. This ancient Western proverb is often cited by Chinese in reference to Cleopatra, and her conquest of Julius Caesar.
In 2000, I was responsible for covering the story of Cheng Kejie, the former vice chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, who was sentenced to death, along with his mistress, in a bribery scandal. I discovered that this Western saying, with its old, rich, feudal image, still applies in our modern Chinese society, where emperors, in theory, have long since abdicated.
The day of his execution, September 14, 2000, Cheng Kejie was dressed up nicely in his suit and tie, his hair neatly combed. Before entering the execution chamber he turned around and with a calm expression on his face shook hands with the executioner, "execution officer", and the doctor. Eight minutes later Cheng received a lethal injection and died in utter disgrace.
When talking about the fall of Cheng Kejie, people, of course, always remember his mistress, 21 years his junior. Commentators were always convinced that this attractive younger woman was at the root of Cheng’s corruption and troubles, pushing him down the road to death after she had conquered him.
The woman was the daughter-in-law of Cheng’s former superior, and eight years prior to Cheng's fall, she had asked several favors from him, and begun their affair.
After his rise to become one of China’s state leaders, Cheng Kejie was nicknamed the "King of Guangxi" when he was designated as the Chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region government. The woman who conquered the King of Guangxi in turn became the "Jiang Qing of Guangxi." The conquest of a local king brings with it the conquest of his territory. Cheng’s subordinates, as well as local businessmen, created all sorts of opportunities to get close to her, made themselves humble before her, and thus corrupted Cheng through her.
In a context with no checks and balances, public power was thus privatized. Businessmen sought benefits through the mistress of Cheng as their trustee. Subordinates were willing to pay her to buy their promotions, a process known as maiguan in Chinese. Her power was silent but supreme.
For seven years before his dereliction of duty was exposed, Cheng and his lover extorted more than 40 million RMB, which they deposited in a Hong Kong bank.
A new case of corruption
Cheng wound up as the highest-ranking official ever executed in Communist China. At his death, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of China’s Communist Party reminded senior officials to learn a lesson, to exercise the power in their hands correctly. The state media declared that "everybody is equal before the law."
Twelve years later, there is another prominent Chinese woman who conquered a top-level official -- and the media has been filled with the same stuff. She is of course Gu Kailai, the wife of the disgraced Party Secretary of Chongqing, Bo Xilai.
In the territory of the "Chongqing King," she became Chongqing's Jiang Qing. But she was even more daring than Cheng’s mistress, and pushed the privatization of public power from her husband to an extreme. When she wanted to kill a foreigner, her orderly became her accomplice. The public security bureau’s chief and other police officers became her “detainees” and tried to cover up her crime.
The story that shocked the world proved once again that in the 21st century, when a woman conquers a man, it can still be tantamount to the conquest of his land. And once again we hear the admonition that “All people are equal before the law.”
It is of course necessary that everybody be treated equally. Nevertheless, just because there are laws to abide by and alarm bells to sound does not mean that our country is a state under the rule of law.
The implementation of the law includes four key components: law enforcement, administration of justice, law-abiding behavior, and supervision of law. Equality before the law must run through them all.
To prevent the feudal display of a woman's abuse of public power through her man, each of these four links has to stick to the principle of equality before the law. And one must say "no" to the privatization of public power.
Alas, in these two different cases, the high officials who had a duty to abide by the law did not believe in the principle of equality before the law. And the supervision of law was absent.
Montesquieu, the French thinker, already said this 250 years ago. When the power of legislative, executive and judicial branches are controlled by one person or the same group of people, freedom will be lost.
Behind this famous phrase is the idea of the separation of powers. The fathers of the U.S. Constitution accepted this idea, and put in place the system of “checks and balances.” America’s implementation of this system, of three branches of power, would be an inspiring way of preventing what is happening in China.
I do not take it for granted that the Three Branches is the ideal political system. The way in which the powers should be separated is less important. What is most important is the principle and implementation of checks and balances. Without this, public power is bound to be privatized -- and such abuses of power will tempt too many, men and women alike.
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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