Geopolitics

Scottish Lessons For The Falklands

The dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is unique. But Argentinians can still draw lessons from the way Britain averted the prospect of Scottish independence.

Falkland islanders in March 2013
Falkland islanders in March 2013
Fernando Petrella*

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — The international system is living through some notable crises.

There is a basic questioning of democratic values, as if republican guarantees were a thing for some but not for others. There are also crises of political legitimacy manifest in distrust felt toward those in government, as well as an economic crisis causing job losses, inequality and uncertainty. These have all led to a fundamental breakdown of global governance that has demonstrated itself in the most extreme ways in places like Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

This age of crisis has also fueled "separatist" movements that, while existing before in historical terms, had never matured to the level of threatening the integrity of important nation states or the geographical equilibrium on which international stability resides. The cases of Scotland and Catalonia are not new, though Europe's difficult conditions are making separatist voices louder.

Falkland islanders in March 2013 — Photo: Martin Zabala/Xinhua/ZUMA

But not all circumstances are equal or so distant, nor should they be for the Argentines.

Scotland, for example, offers us an opportunity to make two important reflections and reach a conclusion. First, in terms of content, the British government was expected to peacefully accept the results of the Scottish independence referendum and the changes that could have followed what turned out to be an averted secession.

Second, Prime Minister David Cameron did not dismiss Scottish secessionist politicians, nor did he insult Scotland and its history or traditions. Instead, he approached them and opened a dialogue, highlighting the political and economic advantages of the status quo while offering more, enticing elements of autonomy. Meaning he negotiated, even if unilaterally, and sought to boost the ties of amity instead of irritating the other side. Ultimately, Scottish voters were persuaded.

We could draw a double conclusion from Cameron's approach. First, the Scottish episode allows us to better understand the United Kingdom and its "codes" of conduct, considering it is the side with which we would negotiate over the Falkland Islands. Second, the right way to initiate negotiation would be to maintain a focus based on closer positions, friendship and shared values.

Happily, none of the separatist movements of the past or present, whether peaceful or traumatic, is essentially similar to the dispute over the Falklands. But we should nevertheless make use of the experiences the world offers.

They show us a British government that was both determined and flexible when faced with the prospect of losing a very important part of its territory. Despite that prospect, it remained attached to the principle of forming bridges with those it is forced to deal with.

Argentine diplomacy has made great progress whenever it has applied these criteria in various cases. It should turn to them now.

*Ambassador Fernando Petrella is an executive committee member of the Argentine Council for International Relations.

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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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