From Paris, A Provocative Little Letter To Santa

Essay: For citizens of France and the world, there is much to be grateful for -- and much to worry about. Looking back at what good has and hasn't come from past Christmas wishes, this French writer has a special request for Santa that can never

A Santa spotting, circa 1895 (Chuck Coker)
A Santa spotting, circa 1895 (Chuck Coker)
Roger-Pol Droit

LES ÉCHOS/Worldcrunch

PARIS - Cher Père Noël (Dear Santa): In these final hours before Christmas, I do not want to impose. But perhaps, despite your busy schedule, you might make some time to hear out my last-minute requests?

I am asking nothing for myself (I'm a bit too old, plus I have been naughty this year). I write instead on behalf of my country and planet.

For France, it seems impossible to wish for something that would please everybody. But it would be kind of you to give everyone a magnifying glass in order to scrutinize our public accounts, and a pair of binoculars so as to see a little further than just the next quarter. For the presidential campaign, ear plugs and nose clips would be most useful, not to mention a strong dose of reality -- and irony. If you could also drop in our stockings a few ideas on how to combat the recession, how to have confidence in our own abilities, along with a good supply of energy, and we might just be able to avoid being completely shipwrecked.

For the whole wide world, throughout the generations, we've already asked so much of you: revolutions, brighter futures, progress, the emancipation of mankind … And I am sorry to say that in return, you have only delivered articles of poor quality. It is better not to ask you again for these things. Instead, Santa Claus, save us from wanting to conquer the skies, from craving the impossible, from believing in radical change. Still, never let us be content with the status quo.

The abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, the end of apartheid – these things show us that not all fights are in vain, and that all progress is not necessarily illusory. It is difficult to separate dreams from reality, to hold on to hope in a world that resists it. It is hard to remain lucid enough to measure the length of a path, enduring enough to continue down it, and grounded enough to act rationally, without believing in Santa – oops sorry, didn't mean to be rude!

A special request

Especially since I have one more request – a more difficult and somewhat personal one. All of these Christmas trees, ornaments and decorations, turkeys and foie gras – frankly, I'm tired of it. All of these gifts we're obligated to give and receive, these static rituals – I've had enough, and I don't think I'm the only one. I guess what I'm trying to say is that many of us wish for the disappearance of that jolly man in red, with his sleigh and reindeer, who returns year after year, and has become nothing but a syrupy, shimmering, and exhausting relic. Do you see what I am getting at? I might as well be direct: I am asking you, dear Santa Claus, to make yourself disappear!

But now, as I write these lines, I realize how they may be problematic. Suppose, in fact, that my request is granted and that next year, there is no more Santa! Radio silence, no sounds of reindeer or sleigh, not one more word. What would this prove? Well quite simply, that Santa actually exists!

That indeed is the interesting paradox you embody. It's not enough to imagine that you are there only when you believe, as with any ordinary god. Rather, Santa Claus, you're the only higher being whose sudden disappearance would undoubtedly prove the existence.

So in fact, if you do not return next year, dear Santa, if you are not seen anywhere, not mentioned anymore, then I will definitely have to believe that you are real. Thank you for listening, I wish you a safe journey this Christmas Eve.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Chuck Coker

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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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