ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing
Kristen Gillespie


*Prime Minister Beji a-Sabsi announced the postponement of parliamentary elections. Originally scheduled to take place on July 24th, the elections were pushed back to October 23rd. The country's electory commission requested the postponement, saying more time was needed to organize transparent elections.

*A military court in Tunis ordered the closure of four personal Facebook pages, including that of leftist opposition activist Jalal Ben Brik on the grounds that they are abusive toward the "military establishment and its leaders." Al Jazeera reports that the Tunisia Internet Agency flagged the pages based on a 1957 law that outlaws any form of contempt for the military that "harms its dignity, reputation and morale." Similar laws exist in most, if not all, Arab countries. A military source told the network that the decision is "perfectly legal."

*In the southern Tunisian city of al-Matouli, the government sent in military reinforcements following three days of clashes between rival tribes over jobs at a phosphate company that left 13 people dead and 100 wounded. Sixty people were arrested.

*The head of the Appeals Court in the Egyptian city of Tanta said that the Egyptian revolution happened only in Tahrir Square, and has yet to arrive to the Ministry of Justice. Rauf says that judges are still constricted in their ability to adjudicate freely. "Although we are preparing to build a new state, granting independence to judges must be a big part of that," he told a television interviewer.

*Hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators appeared to agree, shouting "freedom, freedom, freedom" at a protest in front of the Interior Ministry on Tuesday. They cursed the police and the brutality and torture that is widely reported to still be happening under the ministry's purview. Some held up pictures of Khaled Said, who was brutalized and then killed by Egypt's secret police, who then tried to cover it up. Said's death inspired Wael Ghonim to launch the f Facebook group that became the precursor to the January 25th revolution.

*Syrian state television broadcast images of what it claimed were dead soldiers shot to death in the north by so-called "armed terrorist gangs." Many of the graphic images showed bearded men in uniform, dead on the ground. But as BBC Arabic points out, Syrian soldiers are not allowed to have beards, considered a sign of devotion to Islam, along with other prohibitions such as attending mosque services.

June 8, 2011

photo credit: illustir

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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.

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