food / travel

Doesn't The EU Have Anything *Butter* To Do?

The Czech answer to butter
The Czech answer to butter
Dietrich Alexander

The Luxemburg-based European Court of Justice ruled this week a product the Czechs call butter is not butter, which means that the beloved spread known as "pomazankove maslo" (“spreadable butter”) can no longer be labeled as such.

Non-Czechs would never have called it butter, which it bears no resemblance to – it doesn’t even really look like margarine. As chives, horseradish and paprika are often added to it, many would argue it was more like cream cheese.

But butter purists will be happy to learn the discussion is now moot, at least in the EU, because officially butter now has to contain at least 80% milk fat while the Czech spread doesn’t even contain 30% – the rest is sour cream and milk powder.

To say that the Czechs are not amused is an understatement: their take on the low-cost spread that has been produced since 1977 is that it is a "regional specialty." On average, every Czech consumes a kilo of it annually. Some 10,000 tons of it are produced every year – big business that the Bohemian-Moravian Dairy Product Association now perceives as threatened.

So now after years of legal wrangling with Brussels, it’s going to have to come up for a new name for the product -- "mlecna pomazanka," perhaps: it sounds similar to the old name and means something akin to “milk spread.”

Czech patriots, meanwhile, see the legal defeat as Czech culture being sold down the river to Brussels.

And their travails don’t end there. There’s also the matter of Czech rum distilled from grain and not -- as EU bureaucrats demand for the protected designation that is rum -- sugar cane.

No more "Tuzemsky Rum" is to be seen at liquor stores in the Czech Republic: only "Tuzemak."

These legalities "take bureaucracy to new heights,” one irate Czech citizen commented on the Internet. "The EU concerns itself with nonsense," grumbled another.

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Economy

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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