Who Is Pope Francis? Snapshot Profile Of Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio

The native of Buenos Aires, who rose to be its Archbishop, prefers the subway to limousines -- 'villas miserias' to ecclesiastical sophistication. The name he took evokes a closeness with those who suffer most.

Bergoglio in 2010
Bergoglio in 2010
Andrea Tornielli

ROME - By all accounts, the new Pope, 76-year old Argentinean Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had more votes in the last conclave in 2005 than anyone but the man eventually chosen pontiff, Joseph Ratzinger.

Unlike other leading prelates, he had always rejected powerful postings in the Roman Curia -- only coming to the Vatican when it was absolutely necessary.

Among the vices of the men of the Church, the one he least tolerates is to see a kind of “spiritual wordliness”: ecclesiastical careerism disguised as a clerical sophistication.

The new Pope was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, where he would eventually became archbishop. His father was an immigrant from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. After graduating in chemistry, Bergoglio entered the novitiate of the Company of Jesus. He would go on to study in Chile, before obtaining a degree in Philosophy and Theology in Argentina. He was Professor and Rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel and vicar of the Patriarch of San José, in the Diocese of San Miguel.

In 1986, Bergoglio completed a PhD in Germany, before moving back to Argentina, where his superiors made him spiritual director and confessor in the Jesuit Church of Cordoba. In 1992 John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires – six years later Bergoglio succeeded Cardinal Antonio Quarracino as the Archbishop of the Argentine capital, and was named two years ago to be the President of the Argentine Bishops Conference.

The merciful side

Bergoglio stood out among his fellow cardinals for not having a regular car and driver, preferring to use the metro to get around Buenos Aires. In Rome, he also tends to move around by foot or public transportation.

Those who know him well see in him a true man of God: the first thing he always asks people to do is pray for him. Indeed, that same request stood out as a never-before-seen gesture when he emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s on Wednesday evening to see the faithful for the first time as Pope.

In General Congregation meetings of the cardinals that preceded the conclave, Bergoglio spoke of Christianity as merciful and joyful. His favorite priests are those who work in the “villas miserias”, the slums of Buenos Aires. Rather than face down the people with rigid doctrine, he looks for ways to get to embrace the Gospel, even those who are the furthest from the Christian message. The Church, he always repeats, must show the merciful side of God.

Bergoglio did it when he chose his papal name, almost certainly a reference to St. Francis of Assisi, whose message the worthlessness of worldly possessions.

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

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!