Tanja Nijmeijer joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) when she was barely out of her teens. Now, at 34, the Dutch woman is negotiating for the Marxist rebels in the peace talks with the Colombian government that began this week in Oslo.
With her long, dark-blonde hair, brown doe-eyes and engaging smile, Nijmeijer is nothing if not telegenic, and her presence at the negotiations could make her something of a rebel star. But she also embodies all the things that FARC has long been unable to produce out of their own ranks: not only is she a believer in the cause, she is untainted by suspicions of involvement in the drug trade or weapons smuggling.
Nor is Nijmeijer, who hails from Groningen in the Netherlands, one of the thousands of children recruited by force by the FARC to fight for them.
Tanja Nijmeijer is the guerillas’ “innocent import.”
In Colombia, as in the Netherlands, she has long been a legend mainly because so little is known about her. In Groningen, she studied romance languages and literature for several semesters. While she had links to left-wing student groups, she was no militant. Then in 2000, Nijmeijer went to Colombia to complete an internship – and it was in the city of Pereira, located in the heart of coffee country, that the 21-year-old made a fateful decision about her left-wing convictions: she would uphold them with guns, not words.
Nijmeijer has not publicly revealed much about her new life. In an interview with Colombian journalists, she stated that the poverty she saw in Colombia, along with the brutality of the right-leaning paramilitary, were what motivated her to join the guerrillas. She was silent on the subject of FARC brutality. For her parents, she sang a breathy snippet of "Don't cry for me, Argentina," the song from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita, into the microphone.
A couple of years ago, her mother tried to persuade her to return to the Netherlands, but Nijmeijer responded by saying that anyone who tried to get her to leave the FARC would have to face “mines and gunfire.”
“Until victory or death…”
At some point, however, at least privately, the Dutch woman began straddling the fence, as passages from her diary, discovered at a camp raided by Colombian troops in 2007, show: "I'm tired, tired of FARC, tired of the people, tired of communal life. Tired of never having anything for myself. It would be worth it if we knew why we were fighting. But the truth is I don't believe in this anymore."
She criticized the rebel organization for its machismo, saying that most of the women in the group never made it past being bedmates of the commanders. "How will it be when we come to power? The girlfriends of the commanders in Ferraris, with breast implants, eating caviar?”
The publication of these excerpts put Nijmeijer’s life in danger, the FARC not being known for tolerating lightly dissent in its ranks. She chose to stay with the guerrilla, even though she had also just narrowly escaped being killed by targeted military attacks by Colombian forces. In fact, the Colombian media erroneously announced her death more than once. "I will remain a rebel, until victory or death,” she wrote.
In Oslo, Nijmeijer’s official role is as interpreter for the FARC delegation; in addition to her native Dutch, she speaks English and Spanish. But unlike most FARC leaders – aging men – her young, telegenic presence will put a new spin on talks as the media compete for compelling imagery.
The Colombian government is anything but overjoyed at Nijmeijer’s presence at the talks. Dealing with a young committed woman is different from sitting across from men who have a total of over 150 arrest warrants out against them.
The reaction of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the news that Nijmeijer would be part of the FARC delegation was an indication that the rebel group’s current top commander, Timoleon Jimenez aka Timochenko, had succeeded in his PR coup. Countering Bogota’s statement that only Colombians should be part of the talks, he said: "Both sides are free to decide who will be a part of their delegation." Let the PR battle for peace begin.
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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