food / travel

Venus Goes Home: After Controversial California Hiatus, Ancient Statue Back In Sicily

Venus Goes Home: After Controversial California Hiatus, Ancient Statue Back In Sicily

The Venus of Morgantina, a priceless pre-Christ statue, crosses land and sea after Malibu's Getty Museum agrees to let her go after a long battle over business, laws and history.


ENNA - The Venus of Morgantina, a priceless statue dating back to the fifth century B.C., has made it home to a remote Sicilian village, capping a long dispute between Italy and California's Getty Museum, which ultimately agreed to return it.

"Welcome Home!" read banners hung along the streets of Aidone, a village of 5,000 people located on the hilltop where the ancient Morgantina settlement once flourished. "You are ours! You are ours!" shouted one enthusiastic onlooker.

The two-meter tall Venus of Morgantina was sculpted between 425 and 400 B.C. by a pupil of Greek sculptor Phidias. The artifact's return after more than 30 years marks the end of an international mystery that involved tomb raiders, sophisticated art traffickers and even the mob. The statue was looted in 1978 and acquired by the Getty Museum in 1988 after several mysterious transactions. Italy won it back as part of an ongoing campaign to regain antiquities looted from its archaeological sites. The negotiations over the statue were successfully completed by Francesco Rutelli, a former culture minister.

The Venus was disassembled in Malibu, California and placed into seven cases for its long journey by plane and ferry. An applauding crowd was on hand in Aidone for the homecoming celebration, which also involved a local brass band. The cases were in fact so big they wouldn't fit through the museum's small entrance door. Movers instead carried the Venus in through the backdoor.

The statue's bust, cut into pieces after its original looting, occupied three cases during the journey. The head, one arm, one foot and 90 fragments were placed in another case, while three more cases were used to transport an anti-seismic structure meant to preserve the sculpture in case of earthquakes.

Senior Getty conservator Jerry Podany and a fellow expert put the statue back together as if it were a jigsaw puzzle: first the base, then the middle portion, finally the upper part. Podany was pleased with the final result. "The size of this room is perfect," he said. "The statue seems to fit better here than at our museum." Talk about fair-play.

Regional authorities turned down an offer by the Getty to buy the Venus passage on a U.S. airline. Instead, officials arranged for the statue to travel on a Los Angeles-Rome flight operated free of charge by Italy's main airline Alitalia. The statue was then put on a ferry from Civitavecchia, a port near the Italian capital, to Palermo, Sicily. Finally, after a 180-kilometer road journey, it arrived in Aidone.

Sadly, the Venus' new home – a museum within a 17th-century convent – isn't quite ready to receive her adoring fans. A public unveiling of the statue has been postponed until May, as last-minute work is still being done to the facility.

Long disputes stalled preparations, with officials discussing what to do with the priceless artifact: Should it be placed in Aidone or in Palermo? Should it be kept in the museum or in a church? For all their talk, local authorities were slow to act, failing, for example, to repair the main road leading in and out of Aidone.

Local culture official Sebastiano Missineo has been an exception, setting aside 2 million euros for the road and 1.5 million euros to give the museum a new wing, where the Venus will eventually be placed. He also prepared a plan that includes online booking and incentives for tourist operators. His aim is to put the area, which includes Morgantina's archaeological site, on the tourist map. Missineo said that while revenue will come mostly from schools, he hopes to seize the opportunity offered by the sculpture's presence to draw more visitors overall.

Placing the Venus in one of Italy's most remote areas is indeed a gamble. Some call it pure folly. The road to the village is too narrow for two buses to pass simultaneously. There is no parking lot. The town doesn't even have an official website. But now that they finally have their beloved Venus back, residents in Aidone have no interest in seeing her transferred elsewhere.

"Venus is our child," the say. "Hands off!"

Read the original article in Italian.

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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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