PARIS — When they met Thursday in Berlin, Angela Merkel and Theresa May were two leaders in crisis: the German Chancellor trying to salvage her governing coalition in the face of criticism of her migration policy, while the UK Prime Minister is being dragged ever deeper down in the Brexit quagmire. The meeting, mocked in a less-than-flattering cartoon in The Guardian, took place between two of the world's most powerful women whose "hold on power is starting to look precarious," as Mary Dejevsky writes in The Independent.
Despite the hard times for these female national leaders in Europe, a series of "firsts' on the local level in the rest of the world may hint at a new momentum for women politicians.
In San Francisco, London Breed became the first black woman to be elected mayor with her June victory over two challengers. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Breed garnered support from across the demographics of the diverse Californian city.
San Francisco mayor London Breed — Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen
Meanwhile, south of the border, Claudia Sheinbaum is now the first woman to be elected mayor of the Mexican capital — a surprise win on July 1, in a country where the culture of machismo remains very much an issue. Supporters of the incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who belongs to the same Morena party as Sheinbaum) have called for a great "shake off" and renewed conversation on the place of women in Mexican society.
In Tunisia, the biggest obstacle today to women's advancement is not called machismo, but Islamism. Yet the North African nation also has a history of leading the way on gender equality in the Muslim world, notably with the freedoms inherited from Habib Bourguiba in the 1950s.
Undoing millennia of patriarchy across the world won't happen overnight.
All eyes are now on Tuesday's election of 53-year-old Souad Abderrahim as the first woman mayor of the country's capital. It is a victory that must be put into perspective, as Abderrahim is backed by the Islamist party Ennahda: "Abderrahim is one of the faces that will help de-demonize Ennahda with a Tunisian electorate that is generally against political Islam," wrote French daily Le Monde.
Undoing millennia of patriarchy across the world won't happen overnight, even as each election of a woman to power can be counted as progress. Still, just ask Mesdames Merkel and May: Rising to power is one thing; wielding it successfully is something else.
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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