Geopolitics

Kurdish Gains In Kobani, Kim's Back, NYC Rats

Kim Jong-un's first public appearance since Sept. 3.
Kim Jong-un's first public appearance since Sept. 3.
Worldcrunch

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

KURDS RECAPTURE STRATEGIC KOBANI SITE
Kurdish fighters battling ISIS jihadists in Kobani, Syria, near the Turkish border, announced this morning that they regained control of the strategically crucial Tall Shair hilltop following air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition. ISIS captured it more than 10 days ago. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there was heavy fighting east and south of Kobani Monday, while ISIS reportedly carried out three suicide bomb attacks. The Observatory now says ISIS controls about half the city.

Meanwhile, Turkish fighter jets bombarded Kurdish rebel positions Monday in Turkey’s Hakkari province near the Iraqi border,Hürriyet reports. This is the first major raid on the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) since a ceasefire agreement was signed in March 2013. The Kurdish targets were allegedly involved in “assassination, armed incidents and attacks on security bases” after last week’s nationwide protest, Hürriyet reports. These bombardments have sparked outrage among Kurds, after Turkey still refuses to help Kobani.

The U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition is set to meet today in Washington to work on a strategy to counter the terrorist organization. More than 20 countries, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are participating in the talks.

SNAPSHOT
Kim Jong-un has made his first public appearance since Sept. 3, according to a series of pictures published by North Korea's KCNA.

EBOLA PATIENT DIES IN GERMANY
A Sudanese UN worker who became infected with Ebola in Liberia died in a Leipzig, Germany, hospital early today, Die Welt reports. The 56-year-old man is the first victim of the deadly virus in Germany. He had been flown in from Liberia Thursday. After his arrival at Leipzig’s St. Georg Clinic, doctors labeled his condition “highly critical, but stable.” But this morning medical staff said he died “despite intensive medical measures and maximum efforts by the medical team.”

The UN worker was Germany’s third patient infected with the virus. A Ugandan doctor contaminated in Sierra Leone has been treated in Frankfurt since Oct. 3, and an Ebola-infected Senegalese World Health Organization worker was released from a Hamburg hospital on Oct. 4 after being successfully treated for the virus.

Health experts still don’t know how a nurse became infected with Ebola while treating a patient in a Texas hospital, The New York Times reports. The nurse has received a plasma transfusion donated by a doctor who beat the virus, the AP reports.

"We have to rethink the way we address Ebola infection control,” Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Monday during a press conference. “Even a single infection is unacceptable," The UN Security Council is set to meet in New York Tuesday to discuss the spread of the virus.

At least 4,033 people have died from Ebola since the outbreak of the virus in West Africa, according to the CDC.

VERBATIM
I defend the right of the Catalan people to choose their own future," Catalonia President Artur Mas i Gavarró now says of the Nov. 9 referendum on the region's independence, contradicting an earlier statement that it had been cancelled.

BARRIERS DISMANTLED IN HONG KONG
Hong Kong police used sledgehammers and chainsaws today to dismantle the pro-democracy barricades near government offices and the city’s financial center, the South China Morning Post reports. This reopened Queensway, a major city road, for the first time since the protests began more than two weeks ago. Other major protests remained active in the Admiralty and Mong Kok districts.

For more on the impact of the protests, read this Caixin/Worldcrunch piece, Will Occupy Central Trigger Recession in Hong Kong?

Clashes between the pro-democracy movement and opponents intensified yesterday, as hundreds of people reportedly converged in the Admiralty district to remove barricades. At least 22 people were arrested after tense scuffles broke out between both parties.

More than 100 people surrounded the headquarters of the Hong Kong daily newspaper Apple Daily Tuesday night. This is believed to be part of an ongoing effort to stop the newspaper’s operations. The protesters believe its coverage is favorable to the pro-democracy protests. The Apple Daily is banned in mainland China.

Follow live coverage of the events from the South China Morning Post.

24,586
The number of rat complaints in the Big Apple shot up by more than 2,200 in 2013 to reach 24,586, as scientists revealed they found pathogens unknown to science by examining dozens of New York rats.

SPYING RUSSIAN HACKERS
Russian hackers exploited a bug in Microsoft Windows and other software to spy on computers used by NATO, the European Union, Ukraine and companies in the energy and telecommunications sectors, according to Reuters. The Washington Post also reports that the hackers are “probably working for the government.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Le Monde writes, Patrick Modiano’s Nobel Prize for Literature win last week was excellent news, the perfect answer to the the Cassandras of national decline and lovers of French bashing. “So the Swedish academy's decision is a bit like a thumbing of the nose at the apostles of déclinisme,” the newspaper writes. “Despite recurring announcements of the decline — indeed imminent death — of French culture and particularly its literature, the prize is a feather in the French cap and a tribute to France's capacity to maintain its rank among nations.”
Read the full article, Vive French Literature! What Modiano's Nobel Means For France.

TWO DEAD IN JAPANESE TYPHOON
Typhoon Vonfong was leaving Japan’s northeast coast this morning, but not before killing at least two people and injuring 91 others, The Japan Times reports. The storm hit the Kagoshima Prefecture in the southwest, the Osaka Prefecture in the west and inland of Tokyo Monday, causing airport and railway disruptions.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


PISTORIUS HEARING CONTINUES
Today marks the second in South African athlete Oscar Pistorius’ sentencing hearing in Pretoria. According to the BBC, the prosecution was discussing the athlete’s charity work and the kind of punishment he would face for the homicide of Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. Pistorius faces up to 15 years in jail, although Judge Thokozile Masipa may suspend the sentence or impose a fine.

DENMARK BANS BEASTIALITY
Proving once again that it is among the world’s more progressive nations, Denmark is planning to ban beastiality, which remains legal in some U.S. states. “That is happening for numerous reasons,” the country’s food and agriculture minister Dan Jorgensen, told the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet. “The most important is that in the vast majority of cases it is an attack against the animals.”

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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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