Geopolitics

Deadly Cairo Explosions, U.S. Secret Prison, Exploiting George Clooney

Deadly Cairo Explosions, U.S. Secret Prison, Exploiting George Clooney

CAIRO HIT BY DEADLY BOMBS
The Egyptian capital of Cairo was hit by three bombs this morning, killing at least five people and leaving scores injured, Mada Masr reports. The first and biggest explosion targeted the police headquarters in the city center, where four people died. The attacks, for which an al-Qaeda-inspired group claimed responsibility, come one day before the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising that brought Hosni Mubarak’s rule to an end.

KIEV PROTESTERS STAY PUT AS TALKS CONTINUE
Protesters in Kiev are still occupying the center of the Ukrainian capital after they rejected the offers made by President Viktor Yanukovichfollowing his meeting with opposition leaders yesterday, Ria Novosti reports. In addition, a group of demonstrators seized a government building in Kiev this morning. Read more from AP.

SYRIAN SIDES WON’T MEET
Peace talks over the future of Syria have started in Geneva, as the UN mediator is meeting separately with representatives of the government and of the Syrian National Coalition. Despite earlier declarations by Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad that the official delegation was ready to sit around the same table as the opposition, face-to-face meetings will not happen, with both sides placing blame on the other, The Guardian reports.

NORTH KOREA’S OVERTURE TOWARDS SOUTH
In an open letter sent to the South, North Korea calls for the creation of “an atmosphere of reconciliation and unity” between the two countries, news agency Yonhap reports. Pyongyang also urges Seoul to “completely halt hostile military acts,” as South Korea prepares to hold joint military drills with the United States. Seoul officials replied saying North Korea needed to “demonstrate its sincerity through action.”

AMERICAN SECRET PRISON IN EUROPE
The CIA paid Polish authorities $15 million to host a secret prison, where al-Qaeda suspects were interrogated after 9/11, The Washington Post reports.

FIRE IN QUEBEC NURSING HOME KILLS 5
At least five people have died and 30 others are missing after a fire destroyed a retirement home in Quebec. Read more from The Toronto Star.

VERBATIM
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said there would be a race for jobs between machines and people in the near future, and that people need to win it.

BY THE NUMBERS
This year’s World Economic Forum has (once again) a shockingly low number of female attendees.

HAIR YOU GO
Does George Clooney know how he’s being marketed in Pakistan?

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Economy

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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