PARIS â€" Defeated, the government doesn't know what it wants! Defeated, the Socialist Party is again incapable of defining a clear line! Defeated, members of the center-right Republicans party are tearing each other apart as they seek to avoid the "trap" the Socialists are said to have laid for them. The staggering debate ongoing in France over whether to strip terrorists of their French nationality has further eroded public trust in politicians.
Well, not all politicians. One party has shown consistency and could even brag of clear-sightedness for advocating the stripping of nationality for a long time. It will come out of this debate stronger than before just by keeping its mouth shut. That party, of course, is the far-right National Front.
President François Hollande, on the contrary, will be left bruised, even weaker, though the entire Congress applauded him just two months ago when he announced the measure in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. Inside and outside his party, the conventional wisdom is that such a policy would be pointless and wouldn't change the face of terrorism.
This episode increases National Front leader Marine Le Pen"s chances ahead of the 2017 presidential election. True, a National Front victory in France's most important election of the year isn't the likeliest outcome, for now. The rise of the nationalist party has been a recurring feature in French politics over the past 30 years, but has so far fallen short.
Jean-Marie Le Pen won 17% of the vote back in 2002, enough to qualify for a runoff against Jacques Chirac. Ten years later, during the last presidential election, his daughter Marine got a little more than that. Her party then climbed to 25% in the European Parliament elections of 2014, and to 27% in the French regional elections late last year. It reached 40% in the first round, in the northern and southeastern regions, but it couldn't rally enough voters to win a majority in the second round.
The National Front is currently able to garner a majority of votes among the working class, but not among the middle class or senior executives, notes Jérôme Fourquet, president of the polling institute Ifop. If a National Front victory in 2017 isn't the likeliest prospect, it should not, however, be ruled out entirely. It's actually not difficult to imagine how it could happen.
Almost there? â€" Photo: Blandine Le Cain
Internal party bickering
To the left, a new rift between traditionalists and those who are more progressive could undermine François Hollande as he seeks a second mandate. Meanwhile, there could be a major division among the center-right, with a clash of leaders who all believe they have a shot at winning, from former President Nicolas Sarkozy to former Prime Ministers François Fillon and Alain Juppé. In the recently released comic La Présidente, in which authors François Durpaire and Farid Boudjellal imagine what the first nine months of Marine Le Pen's presidency could look like, Sarkozy obtains a very narrow victory in the party's primaries, encouraging some of his rivals to break away from the party and run in the presidential election anyway.
In the meantime, Marine Le Pen could get the unexpected support of intellectuals, left-wing politicians and entrepreneurs, thus boosting her credibility among the public. She could also benefit from two potential crises. The first would be a national security crisis, with more terrorist attacks. The second crisis could be a social one, if unemployment doesn't fall.
Then comes the icing on the cake: The current president and his predecessor, Sarkozy, both of whom see themselves as legitimate candidates, have been the most deeply unpopular presidents in the five-decade history of the Fifth Republic. In a runoff between either of them and Marine Le Pen, Socialist voters would find it more difficult to vote for Sarkozy than they did to vote for Chirac back in 2002. And many Republicans voters would rather stay home than vote for Hollande.
But even if Marine Le Pen won the race, that doesn't mean her party would be running the country. For that, the National Front would need to win the parliamentary elections (which usually take place in the month that follows the presidential election). It's unclear whether her wave of support would be strong enough to help elect a majority of National Front lawmakers, most of whom would be unknown to the public.
Some experts believe that her victory would be such a shock that it would become possible for her to gain a majority in the National Assembly. In their comic, Durpaire and Boudjellal foresee a house split into three even parts, with the farthest-right fringe of the Republicans giving in to the temptation of a coalition government with Le Pen's party.
Another, perhaps likelier, outcome would be a coalition between The Republicans and the Socialists, leading to the national unity government commentators have often dreamed about. Such a coalition would be formidable, finally making the important reforms (on work, the state, pensions, etc.) a majority of the population supports.
On the other hand, we'd have a president lying in ambush, playing either the nuclear weapon of parliamentary dissolution or a waiting game until the next presidential election, in 2022. Over the past 40 years, outgoing presidents have always lost reelection bids, except when they presided over an opposition-led government and parliament. And in such instances (Mitterrand in 1988 and Chirac in 2002), they always won the parliamentary elections that followed.
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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