STOCKHOLM — Some say Japanese-born Yoko Tawada who has adopted Germany as her home is a writer with a split cultural personality. After 30 years, she still struggles to reconcile the differences.
“Like two personalities, they don’t want to be one,” she says. “They didn’t want to tell one story. I couldn’t put them together. It’s impossible.”
In Sweden to launch her 23rd book, The Naked Eye, the award-winning author says the story has links to her own experience traveling by train from Japan to Germany. “I came to Europe by the Trans-Siberian Railway,” she says. “It is a slow way. It’s not like flying to Europe. You’re in Siberia and all the other cities and places that are between Japan and Europe.”
Somehow, Tawada has stayed in limbo, between two worlds — Asia and the West. After moving to Germany, she saw that Germans looked at things very differently than the Japanese. “In Germany, people try to understand the world as a problem, and they criticize it and they try to find the answer, how to change it.”
Not so in Japan, a country where Confucianism has strong roots, and where people tend to take a different, softer approach. There, Tawada says, “You try to understand the universe as one, and you are a part of something that you criticize.”
There are many examples. In the West, anger is often directed at inanimate objects, Tawada says. Not in Japan. “In Japan, tradition tools — like a pen for the writer, or knife for the cook — they have respect for those tools. So you can’t say ‘stupid pen!’ If something is stupid, it’s you, not the knife or the pen.”
Standing in line at the book signing is Niklas Broman, a longtime admirer of Tawada’s work on the subject of alienation in society. “As a European myself, I can relate to it. Maybe because I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in.”
For the launch of her book, the German Goethe Institute is hosting a reading and discussion, the sort of event that would never happen in Japan. For the Japanese, reading is a personal experience, not something shared with an audience, Tawada says. “In Japan, the readers don’t ask questions to the author. So you never have to answer questions. You just write.”
Tawada has inspired many others to write, among them one of her readers, Miniko Vaneuler. “I also cherish a dream of writing something in Swedish and Japanese, and I actually translate and interpret sometimes,” Vaneuler says. “So I wondered if I could try — as she did.”
Tawada says it is difficult to write in two langauges, but there are special rewards for the effort. “When I think in the German language, it’s like a dialogue. There are two people in my head, and they’re discussing something. In Japanese, it’s a monologue.”
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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
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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