Geopolitics

Latest On Ukraine, Egyptian Government Resigns, Jog In The Smog

Hundreds of joggers ran semi-naked in Beijing's smog
Hundreds of joggers ran semi-naked in Beijing's smog
Worldcrunch

YANUKOVYCH WANTED FOR “MASS MURDER”
A police warrant has been issued for ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose current whereabouts are unknown, the acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced this morning. Yanukovych, who was last seen at his residence in Crimea, is wanted for “mass murder of civilians,” after last week’s riots in Kiev in which 88 people, including 16 police officers, were killed, Itar-Tass reports.

  • The warrant for Yanukovych is the latest development after a weekend that saw the Parliament oust him just one day after he agreed on a compromise with the opposition to hold early elections and set up a coalition government. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from jail on Saturday, three years after being found guilty of fraud, and is expected to run for president. See Euronews’s report of the events as they happened,

  • The former head of the country’s secret services and a strong ally of Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Turchynov, was named interim president. Here’s a BBC profile of Turchynov.

  • Russia has recalled its ambassador to Ukraine for consultations, Reuters reported late yesterday, as Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the latest events showed the opposition “had in effect seized power in Kiev, refused to disarm and continued to place its bets on violence,” the BBC reports. As the West awaits Russia’s reaction, National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned Moscow that sending its troops would be “a grave mistake.”

  • There are now fears that Ukraine might eventually be split in two, with the pro-European part of the country to the West and the pro-Russian part to the East. Speaking to RT, Globalist Research Center chief global analyst Martin Sieff commented that Washington and Brussels’s backing of “revolutionary chaos and disorder” was a “catastrophic move,” as it might encourage similar events in other countries.

  • The events of the last few days have done nothing to solve the country’s longtime financial problems. The Ukrainian Finance Ministry and National Bank said this morning that the country would need $35 billion in urgent financial aid and appealed for the help of the EU, the U.S. and the IMF, Voice of Russia reports. Britain already pledged to help the country.But it is unclear whether Russia will keep its part of a deal signed in December 2013 now that the country’s leadership has moved towards the West.

EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT RESIGNS
The Egyptian government of Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi has resigned, according to reports from state-run newspaper Al Ahram. According to the report, the decision was reached after a 15-minute cabinet meeting. General al-Sisi, who is expected to run for presidency later this year, was the acting defense minister. Read more from Al Arabiya.

THREE DEAD IN THAILAND PROTEST
A mother and her two children died after a grenade was thrown at an anti-government protest in Thailand’s capital, injuring another 22 people, The Bangkok Post reports. The blast came hours after shots were fired at the march, killing a 5-year-old girl and wounding 34 people. Opposition leaders accused the government of being behind the attacks while Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra condemned them as "terrorist acts for political gain,",according to the BBC.

PENTAGON PLANS TO SHRINK U.S. ARMY
A proposed plan to shrink the size of the U.S. army to its pre-World War II level will be released today, says The New York Times. The move, which would eliminate a whole class of Air Force attack jets, is said to seriously limit American capacity to intervene abroad militarily and was described by anonymous officials as an “aggressive push off the war footing” that followed 9/11.

JOINT SOUTH KOREA-U.S. MILITARY DRILL BEGINS
South Korea and the United States are beginning today their annual joint military drill despite North Korea’s opposition and even as the family reunions between the two Koreas are coming to an end this week. Read more about the computer-based Key Resolve exercise and the field training drill Foal Eagle in this paper from Yonhap news agency.

FOTO
Hundreds of jogging enthusiasts ran semi-naked at Olympic Forest Park in Beijing to condemn the city’s horrible air pollution.

POLIO-LIKE ILLNESSES REPORTED IN CALIFORNIA
As many as 25 children are feared to have been infected with a polio-like disease in California since 2012, USA Today reports. According to a doctor, “The best-case scenario is complete loss of one limb, the worst is all four limbs, with respiratory insufficiency, as well.”

BY THE NUMBERS
More than 11 million homes sit empty across Europe — enough to house all of the continent’s homeless twice over.

VERBATIM
After two weeks of violent protests, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called for a national peace conference, inviting the opposition leader to join him.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

BYE BYE SOCHI
The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi ended yesterday with a beautiful ceremony that also showed the world some Russian humor. See the best moments of yesterday’s closing ceremony here and 14 unforgettable moments of the Games.

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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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

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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