eyes on the U.S.

Sex, Lies And American Justice: French Still Try To Understand Strauss-Kahn Case

In France, where accusers enjoy something akin to a “right to lie,” the latest twists in the DSK investigation follow questions about Strauss-Kahn’s treatment as a common criminal.

Piotr Smolar

PARIS - The startling turnaround in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affaire has nothing to do with what happened May 14 in the now famous Sofitel hotel room 2806. It is all about the credibility of the plaintiff, the Guinean housekeeper who has accused "DSK" of sexual assault. For the American judicial system, in its Protestant and Puritan culture, lying is considered absolutely unacceptable.

According to the revelations in the New York Times, and subsequent details from prosecutors, there was a healthy amount of incoherence in the statements of the Sofitel Hotel employee.

"The American system is based on truth," explains Arthur Dethomas, a Parisian lawyer who is also a member of the New York bar. "Litigants take an oath, they swear not to lie, even in matters that involve themselves. In France, on the contrary, a person who is testifying on his own case is not required to be sworn in, because it is assumed that he can protect himself."

The French system thus gives the accuser a sort of "right to lie." In court, before any statement is recorded, the witnesses are questioned about their connections with the individuals involved in the case. Are they close friends or relatives? Have they had any connection of dependence on them, such as a salary?

According to Dethomas, the revelations mark a decisive turn of events in the investigation. "It has to do with an unexpected affair in a closed room, between two individuals," says the lawyer. "The accusation rests on a sexual encounter between them. For a rape to be established, there must be an absence of consent. If the person who claims to have not given consent ceases to be credible, it's over. Even the fact that she possibly lied on a federal document, the application she filled out for refugee status, would be a felony, a perjury sufficient enough to disqualify everything else she says."

U.S. justice works both ways

Between France and the United States, the differences in judicial philosophy and practice, notably concerning the status of the victim, explains part of the incomprehension coming from this side of the Atlantic. But so too does the soap opera of a judicial procedure that has taken place since the beginning in New York against Dominique Strauss-Kahn: his being paraded before the media, handcuffed in front of the cameras, his three-day temporary detention, then the heavy weight given to the prosecution, in contrast to the tactical silence of the defense. "In its brutality, the American justice system works both ways," says a Parisian lawyer.

For his part, Patrick Baudoin, a lawyer as well as the honorary president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), listened rather incredulously to the avalanche of commentaries since the latest turn of events. "One thing struck me: as soon as certain unfavorable, thorny elements were discovered in the past history of the plaintiff, it was deduced that her testimony no longer stands."

Baudoin himself encountered the ways of the American justice system when he defended the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of having wanted to participate in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The comparison between the United States and France prompted him to distinguish justice from public life. "In terms of public morality, it is much better in the United States," he notes. "In France, there is much more leeway and allowance for half-truths. However, in terms of law, it is striking to see what is going on in the United States from one extreme to another. We saw a vilified and reviled DSK who was being dragged through the mud. Suddenly, the victim, who contrary to the French system is merely a witness and not a plaintiff, is discredited."

The lie is not only a "mortal sin" inside the courtrooms of America. It is also devastating in front of the cameras. In 1998, Bill Clinton was nearly thrown out of office through an impeachment procedure for having been accused of perjury in the Monica Lewinsky affair. He was not criticized for having a sexual relation with his assistant, but for having lied about it.

In the same way and more recently, the Democratic representative Anthony Weiner had to resign from his position in Congress on June 21. He had sent risqué photos of himself in his underwear through his Twitter account. But the reason for his fall was caused by his first version of the facts, which were misleading and dishonest. He had pretended that his account was hacked. This insupportable line of defense forced him, within a few days, to backtrack and confess with sobs in his voice in front of the cameras. It was already too late.

Read the original article in French

photo - gwydionwilliams

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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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