YEDIOT AHARONOT, HAARETZ (Israel), LE TEMPS (Switzerland), AL JAZEERA (Qatar)
TEL AVIV - Amidst rising tensions over the issue of illegal immigration in Israel, more than 100 undocumented South Sudanese were sent back to their native country on Monday.
Haaretz reported that the migrants, including 43 children, underwent a registration and identification process at Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv before boarding a plane for Juba, the capital of the newly founded South Sudanese state. The migrants each received $1,300 per adult and $500 per child.
Ultra-orthodox Interior Minister Eli Yishai was at the terminal to oversee the departure, which is the beginning of a process involving 2,000 South Sudanese. Yishai - who previously stated that the illegal migrants were a threat to the Jewish character of Israel - said that he did not "belittle the pain of the families returning home."
Aid groups disputed the voluntary nature of the migrant's departure. An Al Jazeera report said that security forces told the migrants that they had a choice between leaving Israel or going to jail.
Illegal immigration is a hotly debated topic in Israel, and the latest departures are only a fraction of the undocumented population. Le Temps reported that there are approximately 650,000 illegal immigrants currently in the country. Israel cannot deport the 150,000 North Sudanese and Eritrean migrants because of several legal obstacles, including collective protections guaranteed by the United Nations.
Activists quoted by Ynet News, the English website for Yediot Aharonot, said that sending these North Sudanese and Eritrean migrants back to their country would put their well-being at risk. "If we have no choice, we'd prefer to remain in prison in Israel rather than be sent back to Eritrea. We ask that Israel protect us," said Gabriel Takala, a 31-year-old Eritrean asylum-seeker interviewed by Ynet News.
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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
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.
- Crypto Tipping Point: Is Digital Currency Too Big To Fail ... ›
- Bitcoin, Petro, Libra ... Why Cryptocurrency Isn't Really Currency ... ›
- Inside The Himalayan Hideaway Of Chinese Bitcoin Mines ... ›