LE MONDE (France), ABC NEWS, THE AGE, ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS SERVICE (Australia)
DARWIN – French nuclear energy giant Areva had big ambitions for this Australian uranium deposit: 14,000 tons of uranium, worth $2 billion, reports Le Monde.
But now, it’s worth nothing, thanks to the tireless efforts of the land's original owners – the Djok aboriginal clan. This month, Australian Environmental Minister Tony Burke started the process to incorporate the deposit into a national park, effectively putting an end to Areva’s mining ambitions.
For decades, says Australia's ABC news, Lee, the last remaining traditional owner of the Koongarra uranium deposit, in Australia’s Kakadu National Park, has been refusing to allow the deposit to be mined.
Areva holds the exploration license to the deposit, which was discovered in 1970. In 1979, the area was excluded from the national park so that the uranium could be mined. But the Djok clan relentlessly fought offers by Areva to mine the deposit.
A delegation even travelled to Paris to convince the World Heritage Committee to get the Koongarra deposit back into the Kakadu National Park, reports ABC News. According to the Australian government, Areva went as far as to request Koongarra be removed from the meeting’s agenda.
But Jeffrey Lee never stopped fighting, even though he says his decision went against the wishes of his father and grandfather, who wanted mining to go ahead.
According to The Age, Lee could have become one of Australia’s richest men if he had allowed the French nuclear energy giant to mine the 12.5-kilometer mineral lease.
"I'm not interested in money. I've got a job. I can go fishing and hunting. That's all that matters to me," he told The Age in 2007.
As news broke of Koongarra’s incorporation into Kakadu National Park, Jeffrey Lee told reporters “This is the moment I was waiting for, for a very long, long time.”
Lee said, “This is a great day for me, my country and my culture. My mind is at peace now that I know that there will be no mining at Koongarra and that Djok lands will be protected forever in Kakadu National Park,” according to the Environmental News Service.
“I have said no to uranium mining at Koongarra because I believe that the land and my cultural beliefs are more important than mining and money. Money comes and goes, but the land is always here, it always stays if we look after it and it will look after us,” he said.
There are two other uranium deposits in Kakadu National Park, the Ranger and Jabiluka mines, which have also set off battles between locals and outside interests.
Photos Alberto OG
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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