Geopolitics

Le Monde To Macron: Grant Snowden Asylum In France

Leading French daily says that France (and the West) must live up to claims as protectors of freedom as represented by the exiled American whistleblower.

Snowden has appeared all over Europe, always remotely.
Snowden has appeared all over Europe, always remotely.
Le Monde

-Editorial-

PARIS — During the Cold War, Western democracies rightly denounced the mass surveillance put in place by Eastern totalitarian regimes, offering refuge to dissidents who protested against such violations of basic freedom.

A few decades later, the Orwellian dystopia of disappearing privacy is becoming more and more concrete around the world, thanks to state intelligence agencies and the complicity of the giant internet companies. The revelation that civil liberties were being nibbled away at came to light thanks, in great part, to Edward Snowden: the talented techie turned enemy of the state in his native country, the United States.

In 2013, the secret documents he leaked to the press revealed large-scale surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency, his employer. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, taking advantage of the widespread use of the internet and exponential storage capacities, intelligence services began secretly and systematically capturing citizen communications— without any democratic oversight whatsoever.

Snowden's revelations triggered a greater awareness of the standing of civil liberties, not just with political powers— who themselves were sometimes spied on by the intelligence agencies of allied countries— but also with the public. It shone a light on the ambiguous role of the top American tech firms and cleared the way for the burgeoning counter-attack by government authorities, whose rights were being eroded by the ambitions of the likes of Google and Facebook.

That Edward Snowden, flying towards a South-American exile around this time six years ago, ended up finding refuge in Moscow, where his passport was confiscated by the U.S. during a layover, doesn't change anything: he remains the world's most famous whistleblower, a powerful force in spurring a global mobilization to preserve civil liberties.

Earlier this week, Snowden spoke by teleconference on French radio station France Inter to speak about his new book. Recalling that he had applied, in vain, for asylum in France during the presidency of François Hollande, Snowden said he hoped current President Emmanuel Macron would reconsider letting him enter. If that happened, France would be doing itself an honor to welcome and protect him.

The West shouldn't allow Putin to stake a claim as protector of this freedom fighter.

The former French president rejected his application in 2013 because Snowden was not physically on French soil, which is a condition for asylum in the Geneva Convention. But since 1946, France has had the right to extend beyond French borders a special protection procedure that extends to anyone persecuted for their efforts to uphold liberty. French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet has stated that she's in favor of this ruling, as is a top ally of Marcon, European Parliament member Nathalie Loiseau, who believes Snowden "has done humanity a service."

There's no denying the shock that welcoming Snowden to France would create, nor the potential consequences of such an important decision in terms of intelligence cooperation.

The whistleblower's current situation shouldn't let us forget that authoritarian countries like Russia and China are the first to use the internet to repress their citizens. It is for this exact reason that Western democracies shouldn't allow Vladimir Putin to stake a claim as protector of the freedom fighter that is Edward Snowden. Granting him asylum would be a good way for Macron to put into practice what he preaches about human rights being "the common good of all Europe," and about France's particular singularity in this world on this regard.

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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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