Sources

Paris Attack, French Elections, Heads And Hearts

Police forces on Paris' Champs Elysees on April 20
Police forces on Paris' Champs Elysees on April 20
Sruthi Gottipati and Bertrand Hauger

-Analysis-

PARIS — Warnings about an imminent terrorist attack had hung ominously in the air in the final weeks of the French presidential election. On Tuesday, police arrested two suspects in the southern city of Marseille after finding a cache of weapons and bomb-making ingredients in their apartment. But with the world focused on French politics like never before, that spectre of terrorism crashing into the political campaign became a disturbing reality last night in the French capital.

Already hit by two major terrorist attacks in the past three years, Paris was struck again — less than 72 hours before polls open Sunday. A gunman, possibly linked to terror group ISIS, shot dead a police officer and wounded two others on the iconic Champs Elysées shopping street. French newspaper Le Monde reported that the shooter, who was killed in a firefight with police, is Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old French citizen.

Le Parisien"s April 20 front page

Voters will now go to the polls on Sunday in a highly unpredictable race, with four of the 11 candidates within striking distance of making the two-person runoff in May. A Le Monde editorial this morning said the attack might benefit far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has made the threat of Islamist extremism and immigration her main talking points. Last Monday, she even claimed there would have been no terror assaults in France under her watch. If history has shown any precedent, the far right may indeed get a boost. After terror attacks in and around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, that killed 130 people, Le Pen's National Front party had its strongest ever showing in regional elections.

The fight against extremism cannot be won overnight.

Bruno Jeanbart, head of polling institute OpinionWay told French daily Le Figaro that last night's attack "reactivates themes on which Marine Le Pen is already well positioned." And though Jeanbart points out that the Nov. 13 attacks were "much more powerful" than the Champs Elysées one, the latter still "puts the end of the campaign back on national matters' — a development that could benefit rightwing contenders like Le Pen.

Le Pen, reacting to the attacks this morning, said that France needs to tighten its borders and deport all foreigners on the terror watchlist. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist candidate just ahead of her in the polls, cautioned against giving into fear and noted that the fight against extremism cannot be won overnight. Le Parisien daily described the two reactions as "diametrically opposed."

It's hard to overstate how high the stakes are Sunday. But like with all elections, we can be sure that some in France will vote with their head, others with their heart.

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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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

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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