*A man in the northern Syrian city of Idlib found a creative way to describe recent protests in the city. "The city of Idlib, June 26th 2011," he begins the narrative, while filming bullets placed on two pieces of white paper spelling out the word "freedom" in Arabic. Security forces fired tear gas on protesters and in crowded residential neighborhoods, the man says, and then used rubber bullets. As he is talking, he picks up a shell casing that forms part of the last letter of "freedom" and holds it close to the camera. "Twelve milliters – written on it ‘Made in Damascus,"" he said. Then he picks up a rubber bullet, neatly placed next to a second to form the dots under one of the Arabic letters. "Bashar and his thugs only understand the language of bullets," the narrator says.
LANGUAGE OF REFORM
*Demonstrators both for and against reforms proposed by King Mohammed VI took place in cities across Morocco. The proposed changes require a referendum vote before being implemented. They include transforming Morocco into a constitutional monarchy and making Tamazight, the Berber language, one of the country's official languages.
*Yemeni news website Maarib Press reports that "hundreds of thousands' of Yemenis took to the streets demanding the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime and denouncing American and Saudi intervention in the country. Protesters also demanded that Saudi Arabia disclose details about the health of Saleh, who has been in a Saudi hospital since a rocket attack on his presidential palace in Sanaa earlier this month. Saleh's health has been the subject of wildly varying rumors and speculation
*The Bahrain Revolution February 14 Facebook group posted a video said to be of a government "torturer named Yousef al-Manaee wearing a red shirt in the video and attacking a woman who tried to stop them from arresting the young man." The man in question is Mohammed Reza al-Shaikh, and the administrator states that he was arrested in a-Daye village on Friday, June 25th. A small nighttime protest of men and women appears at the beginning of the clip, with shouts of "the people want the regime to fall." At 4 minutes 30 seconds in, security forces arrive to the scene. At 7:12, the man in the red shirt pushes an older woman before getting into a police car.
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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