Sources

The 2017 Academy Awkwards, From La La Land To Pa-ree

Oscar-worthy SNAFU
Oscar-worthy SNAFU
Bertrand Hauger

PARIS — There's no fixed running time for the Academy Awards ceremony. If you live on the East Coast, and are not a night owl, you may very well have not made it last night to Best Picture. It's usually not that big of a deal, with some arguing that the Hollywood show has become somewhat predictable.


Living in Paris and needing our beauty sleep, my wife coerced me and I started this sweet tradition a couple of years ago of watching the Oscars the following night, dans les conditions du direct. Meaning that she'll spend her whole Monday avoiding social media, online news, TV and radio. Being an online journalist, she basically has to take a day off, or cover her ears and go LALALA — or, more like La La Land, am I right?


I on the other hand, being a serious journalist too and generally not giving a damn about keeping the whole thing a surprise, started my morning as usual by opening up my PEOPLE.com app the Financial Times, looking for a quick list of winners, some commentary on unavoidable Trump takedowns, and photos of the worst dressed on the red carpet.


But as you may or may not know (depending on your time zone), this was anything but a predictable Oscar night. The plot twist was itself Oscar-worthy, with La La Land being initially declared Best Picture winner when in fact, the prize went to Moonlight.

While the internet explores the depths of this memorable pop culture moment, the authorities are investigating just what went wrong. No doubt someone in Hollywood will soon be pitching a screenplay called "The Envelope", with Meryl Streep as Emma Stone — you know she can pull it off — Michael Fassbender as Warren Beatty, and Ryan Gosling as the Oscar statuette (same acting range).


I can't wait to watch the show with my blissfully unaware wife. There are already reaction compilations up there of people cursing and screaming all sorts of nonsense. As for my bilingual better half, I'll just sit back and watch her go: "oh putain, oh putain, oh my God, oh my God ..." Then the initial shock will pass and she'll just have one word, en anglais to say it all: awkwaaard.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ