"It's almost like Shakespeare: Brexit or no Brexit? That was the question." German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle resorted to a passing twist on Hamlet after the British Parliament delivered what may be the final defeat Tuesday night in Prime Minister Theresa May's attempt to lead the UK to an orderly divorce from the European Union.
Though real-life consequences are at stake on the continent, European publications were mostly left trying to understand what was happening across the Channel. And yes, Shakespeare was there to help. Italian journalist Enrico Franceschini cited The Tempest: "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," began his article in Rome-based La Repubblica. "You need to look to the Bard after yet another day in which the British parliament, and the nation it represents, are tossed about by Brexit like a ship at the mercy of the proverbial Shakespearean storm."
Beppe Severgini reached for a different British trope in his commentary for Corriere della Sera: "Brexit defies any logic, and logic is the shiniest jewel in the crown of the British mind."
The pro-Brexit, pro-May paper The Daily Mail did not shy away from laying blame on Parliament, which voted 391 to 242 to reject (apparently once and for all) the proposed accord negotiated with the EU. "They vowed to deliver the Brexit Britain voted for — and had it in their grasp. But last night contemptuous MPs chose instead to plunge our despairing nation into chaos."
French daily Le Monde may have best summarized the current state of play: "The Brexit deal laboriously negotiated with Brussels for two years is dead, and Theresa May, who backed it, is politically hardly in better condition."
What's next? There is of course the prospect of a "no-deal" Brexit, with a vote on that option scheduled Wednesday night, which could force the UK to negotiate all terms of trade, travel and otherwise with each EU country individually. Otherwise, the UK can appeal to the EU for an extension of the original March 29 deadline for a comprehensive deal. The front page of France's Libération "back to square one" begs the question of just how far "back" all will be forced to go.
As for the future, Die Welt echoed a sentiment across the continent: "No one knows." The only way out, writes Stefanie Bolzen, could be "a self-imposed pause for thought, just as the EU likes to do when it's at its wits' end." But back inside the UK, she concludes: "Brexit has polarized the country too much for that. The train keeps on running. And nobody knows where."
In a video commentary for Spanish daily El Pais, veteran award-winning journalist Iñaki Gabilondo doubts it'll be an orderly divorce at all, comparing Brexit to a marriage turned sour: The UK and Europe "have reached a place where, like in so many troubled marriages, things have boiled over to the point that the fight is more intense than the original reasons for the dispute."
While the metaphors keep coming, it looks like Brexit has turned Shakespeare into a second-rate soap opera.
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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