Geopolitics

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: A Scandal Waiting To Happen

With the IMF chief facing allegations of attempted rape of a hotel maid, the French left’s paper of record profiles Strauss-Kahn’s “women problem,” described as hedonistic and on the verge of harassment.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: A Scandal Waiting To Happen
Rapahelle Bacqué

PARIS - He has always had a double reputation. For some time now, he has been recognized for his genuine economic capabilities and his careless behavior, his sparkling intelligence coupled with an apparent dilettantism, a mind as brilliantly clear as his relationship toward women is troublesome.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn has long been seen as a figure whose promising talent has lived side-by-side with what his friends – before his May 16 charge of sexual assault for allegedly attacking a hotel maid in New York – would discreetly refer to as an "unbearable lightness of being."

For years, Strauss-Kahn, known throughout France as "DSK," was saddled with a troubling reputation that worried even his top collaborators. "Too hedonistic," insiders of France's political left would say, ever fearful of potential attacks against him. In this word "hedonistic," so incompatible with the dreams of a righteous progressivism, those closest to him would see the risks of overconfidence in his own intelligence, alongside a certain free spirit, a taste for material wealth and a frenzied desire to seduce women.

This "lightness of being," a reference to Milan Kundera's 1984 novel, has caused him several significant stumbles just as he was appearing to reach the top. After being named French Finance Minister in the late 1990s, he was forced out of office in 2000 after corruption accusations, of which he was eventually cleared.

People gossiped about his private life as well, even as he married his third wife in 1991, the television star Anne Sinclair. In Paris, at the bar of the Lutetia Hotel, a favorite haunt of many a Socialist Party head, one could spot him being too pushy with young women. His advisor, Gilles Finchelstein, his most trusted friend, once drew up a list of the faults that lined up across his political path: flaunted frivolity, and an attachment to a bourgeois lifestyle. But despite criticism, DSK remained a major political player thanks in part to the networks that he established within his own party.

At a dinner in 2006, just before the Socialist party primaries in which he ran against Ségolène Royal, his friend Alain Minc, a prominent French businessman and political advisor, told him exactly what he thought of his presidential ambitions. "You'll never be capable of such asceticism," Minc said, to which DSK responded, "Maybe not for my whole life…but for two or three years, sure!"

In the press however, his taste for women had become a subject, broached in veiled terms. While campaigning with his wife, he had to respond to a question in a June 2006 interview with L'Express magazine: "You have the reputation of being a seducer. Do you fear the power of rumor in public life?" His return-to-sender response was: "This is not a weapon I would use." The same weekly asked Anne Sinclair if she suffered because of his reputation as a seducer. "On the contrary, I'm rather proud of it! It's important for a political man to be able to seduce."

No charges filed

At that time, the journalists Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois published a best-selling book, Sexus Politicus (Albin Michel, 2006), dedicating a chapter to the private life of DSK. The testimonies were anonymous and no complaints were ever brought forth. His loss to Ségolène Royal in the primary for the right to take on Nicolas Sarkozy was chalked up solely to his political positions, rather than his private behavior.

In 2007, he was given the opportunity to make a quick comeback, as the head of the International Monetary Fund. At the time of his nomination, Jean Quatremer of Libération pointed out in his blog: "Strauss-Kahn's only real problem is his behavior with women. Too pushy, he often narrowly excapes charges of harassment. This fault of his is well-known by the media, but no one speaks about it…" Several months earlier, on February 5, 2007, during an interview on the Paris Première program, a young woman, Tristane Banon, daughter of a Socialist party regional council member, said Strauss-Kahn had attempted to rape her in 2002. But the television network, fearing defamation charges, covered the name of the former minister with a bleep. Her failure to press charges casted doubt on her testimony.

In 2009, the book written by Antonin André and Karim Rissouli, Hold-Ups, Arnaques et Trahisons (Scams and Betrayals), reported the comments – half-heartedly denied – of Sarkozy supporter Frédéric Lefebvre to some journalists that: "DSK wouldn't last a week. We have photos, they exist! We will circulate them, and the French will not be pleased." A threat to which the head of the IMF responded by asking Nicolas Sarkozy "to stop the rumors."

In these last months, DSK has shown an awareness of the criticisms that he could face. At the editorial offices of the Libération daily, where he was having an off-the-record lunch meeting on April 28, he enumerated three: "Cash, women, and my being Jewish." As far as his religion is concerned, he was expecting someone to take advantage of a declaration he made years before to the Tribune Juive that he "woke up each morning asking himself how he could be useful to Israel." As for money, he was able to notice its immediate consequences with the circulation of a recent photograph showing him next to one of his advisor's Porsche sports car.

But in front of the staff of Libération, he had begun with the subject of women: "Yes, I love women…So what?" Then he imagined a scenario in which his reputation could be ruined by a false claim by "a woman…raped in a parking lot and to whom someone promised 500,000 or a million euros in exchange for her story…"

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Greek PM office

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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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