Geopolitics

Kurds Vs. ISIS, U.S. Drought, Free Wi-Fi At What Cost?

A duck walks across dried mud near a pond in Oregon.
A duck walks across dried mud near a pond in Oregon.

KURDS LAUNCH ISIS OFFENSIVE
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are attacking ISIS on three fronts in northern Iraq and are gaining territory on the border with Syria, AFP quotes senior Kurdish officers as saying. Meanwhile, Turkey has sent 35 armored vehicles, including a dozen tanks, to the border with Syria, where fights around the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani are intensifying. After a week of U.S. strikes in Syria, The New York Times reports that fighters in anti-Assad rebel groups are growing angry over the strikes, which they believe are reinforcing the Syrian government.

GLOBAL WARMING AND DROUGHT
The severe drought affecting California and Oregon cannot definitely be linked to climate warming, a study shows. While acknowledging that human behavior contributes to climate change and heat waves across the globe, scientists suggest that "natural variability likely played a much larger role in the extreme precipitation events" such as the drought in the West, the Los Angeles Times reports. The report was published just days after CBS San Francisco warned that at least a dozen communities in northern and central California could run out of water in just 60 days.

HONG KONG PROTESTERS ISSUE DEMAND
As the crowds of protesters grow in Hong Kong ahead of tomorrow’s national holiday, protest leaders have set a 24-hour deadline for the city’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to respond to their demands of more democracy and to step down, AP reports. Leung said China “will not rescind its decision” to vet candidates before the 2017 election in Hong Kong, the controversy that is driving the protests. And Beijing continued to describe the demonstrations as “an illegal assembly.”

VERBATIM
“To defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly yesterday, as he tried to shift the discussion from ISIS to Iran.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Clarin reports, spring, also known as the season of love, has arrived in South America. Experts point to a new kind of approach and natural toys to help heat things up in the bedroom. “We've all heard of Slow Food, which began as a reaction to the culture of fast food,” journalist Gisela Sousa Dias writes. “But lately, the philosophy of slowing down has spread to other areas,” which now also includes our love lives. Read the full article here.

AFGHANISTAN TO LET U.S. TROOPS STAY
Ashraf Ghani, who was yesterday sworn in as the new Afghanistan president, is expected to sign a deal today to allow U.S. troops to stay in the country beyond the end of this year, Reuters reports. Under the bilateral agreement, almost 10,000 American troops will stay, as well as 2,000 military personnel from other NATO countries. In his address yesterday, Ghani called on the Taliban to join peace talks, but they denounced the deal as a “sinister” U.S. plot.

41%
Forty-one percent of Syrian refugees aged between 15-24 have contemplated suicide at one time, according to a study by the UN and Save the Children International. Read more here.

ARGENTINA IN CONTEMPT OF COURT
U.S. Judge Thomas Griesa has ruled that Argentina is in contempt of court for its refusal to abide by a previous ruling ordering the country to repay the debt it owes to two American hedge funds, Bloomberg reports. The Argentinian government responded with a strongly worded statement, published by Clarín, that the decision “violates international law” and only provides “new elements in the defamation campaign being waged against Argentina by vulture funds.” Judge Griesa said he would decide on a penalty later.

READ THE CONDITIONS
A UK experiment meant to raise awareness about the dangers of public Internet access found that at least some people blindly accepted terms and conditions that offered them free Wi-Fi in exchange for their eldest child. Read more from The Guardian.

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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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