Thursday, November 27, 2014
SUICIDE BLAST HITS BRITISH EMBASSY IN KABUL
At least five people died and 30 were injured in a suicide attack on the British embassy in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, the BBC reports. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed one British citizen and mostly hit Afghan bystanders. The group’s spokesman said it had “targeted foreign invading forces.” The attack comes three days after three American soldiers were killed in a car explosion.
Preparations for New York's annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade today were underway Wednesday in Central Park West, where a giant Spider-Man dwarfed a sports utility vehicle.
FERGUSON PROTESTS CALM
The streets of Ferguson, Missouri, have calmed, but in downtown Los Angeles, police arrested 130 people last night after they refused to disperse. Oakland, meanwhile, saw its third consecutive night of vandalism. According to The St. Louis Post, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon rejected calls to bring in a special prosecutor to present police officer Darren Wilson’s case to a new grand jury. The Los Angeles Times reports that some witnesses were so afraid of the police, neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan that they kept their testimonies to themselves until investigators knocked on their doors.
Meanwhile, police in Cleveland, Ohio, released the 911 call and surveillance video of Saturday’s fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The footage shows that the police officer shot him just two seconds after the car he was riding in pulled up next to the boy, who was playing with a toy gun. Read more from USA Today.
For the first time since 1996, more than a million vinyl records have been sold in the UK so far this year, with sales expected to reach 1.2 million over the Christmas holidays.
KIEV CLOSES BANKING SYSTEM IN EASTERN UKRAINE
Sporadic fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, and Kiev officials are responding with a new offensive against the rebel-held regions: shutting down the banking system in those areas, AFP reports. Unable to withdraw money at ATMs or to pay with cards, at least 5,677 people are believed to have fled the region in one day, 10 times more than usual, with a majority of them heading to Russia. Meanwhile, NATO's top military commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, warned that a Russian military buildup in Crimea could be used to take control of the Black Sea. This came after Russia’s Defense Ministry announced the deployment of 30 military jets on the peninsula.
As Le Monde’s Marie Charrel reports, in a reversal of economic fortunes, Sweden's under-25s are leaving the high unemployment of their home country to seek more money and secure jobs in Norway. “There are thousands of young Swedes in Oslo's cafes, bars, shops and museums,” the journalist writes. “All crossed the border to find a better life here, in the country of fjords. According to the Frisch Center, the University of Oslo's economic institute, 20% of Oslo workers aged between 17 and 25 come from Sweden. There were only a handful 20 years ago. In total, Swedes represent 10% of the city's population. ‘The trend started in the 1990s and developed from 2000,’ explains Ida Tolgensbakk, a PhD student writing a dissertation on the subject.”
Read the full article, Young Swedes Flock To Norway, A Nordic Immigration Flip.
EBOLA VACCINE “PROMISING”
The first human trials of an experimental Ebola vaccine have shown “promising” results, scientists say. “We can call this trial an unqualified success, even though it was an early Phase One trial,” a doctor told the BBC.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
BEIJING’S USES SOFT POWER ON TAIWAN
As Taiwan prepares for local elections this weekend, Reuters reports how Beijing is working in the shadows to ultimately absorb the state it sees as a breakaway province. Via an agency called United Front Work Department, which is also active in Hong Kong, China is “targeting academics, students, war veterans, doctors and local leaders in Taiwan in an attempt to soften opposition to the Communist Party and ultimately build support for unification,” the report reads. A source close to Chinese officials said that Beijing was using soft power to ultimately reach “peaceful unification.” “To attack the heart is the best,” the source said, quoting from Sun Tzu’s famous book, The Art of War.
THAILAND POSTPONES RETURN TO DEMOCRACY
Thailand’s Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon announced that a general election planned for next year will be pushed back to 2016, when the new constitution is expected to be ready, The Bangkok Post reports. This comes one week after the military junta said the martial law it imposed before taking power in May would not be lifted “until the country has peace and order.”
BORN TO BE FOLLOWED
Canada joined Twitter yesterday in an attempt to show “everything that makes Canada the best country in the world,” and its first message to the tweetosphere was the best possible introduction, eh!
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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