Geopolitics

State-Sponsored Barbarism, From The Philippines To Brazil

Riot police in Manila
Riot police in Manila
Clovis Rossi

-OpEd-

SAO PAULO — Barbarism has actually become popular in the Philippines. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 78% of Filipinos support the "license to kill" President Rodrigo Duterte has given the police against those accused, or even just suspected, of dealing or consuming drugs.

The government proudly announced the death of 3,400 people since Duterte took office in June 2016, but Human Rights Watch says the figure is more than double that, at more than 7,000.

The international outcry over this blatant violation of due process and human rights has found no echo in the Philippines: According to the Pew study, 86% of those interviewed said they had a favorable view of Duterte. Perhaps that is because a vast majority (78%) are happy with the country's economic situation.

When the economy flourishes, the government gets good approval ratings; this is true for any country, not only the Philippines. But it becomes a social pathology when satisfaction with the economy leads to the turning of a blind eye to state-sponsored barbarism.

Clearly, Duterte does not agree that his policy is barbaric. In fact, he recently said he would authorize the killing of his own son, Paulo "Pulong" Duterte, 42, if allegations made by an opposition lawmaker that he was involved with drugs were true. In a recent address to government officials, Duterte said he had told his son: "My order is to kill you if you are caught. And I will protect the police who kill you if it is true."

A growing sentiment in Brazil that a good criminal is a dead criminal.

My fear is that this type of state-sponsored savagery might gain support in other countries, like Brazil. The chaos that has taking over Rio de Janeiro, with more than 100 police officers killed this year alone, and the fact that the authorities are losing the war against drug trafficking can only strengthen the growing sentiment in Brazil that "a good criminal is a dead criminal."

It is worrying enough that 60% of Brazilian adults admitted, in a recent study published by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, that they agreed with the following statement: "Most of our social issues would be solved if we could get rid of immoral people, delinquents and perverts."

On the other hand, a study by the Datafolha polling institute showed that support for the death penalty went down from 43% to 42% between 2014 and 2017. Common sense would suggest then that the number of people supporting extrajudicial killings, like those practiced in the Philippines, would be even lower.

But there are two factors that should cause great concern regarding the spread of savagery in Brazil: First, the notorious degradation of public security in the country in general, and particularly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's great international showcase for all that is good, or in this case, bad about our country.

Second, the emergence of Jair Bolsonaro, a potential presidential candidate in the 2018 election whose discourse on crime echos Duterte's. As Ana Estela de Sousa Pinto, a Folha reporter who wrote a remarkable series from the Philippines end of last year recently wrote, "Bolsonaro has already chosen his main enemy: criminals, whom he has pledged to either arrest or execute, depending on the moment."

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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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