Mladic Capture: A Victory For European Soft Power

The arrest of war criminal Ratko Mladic demonstrates how the EU can be a force for stability, especially when it holds out the possibility of membership.

Mladic was wanted for 15 years on war crimes charges. (Steffan42)
Mladic was wanted for 15 years on war crimes charges. (Steffan42)
Clemens Wergin

BERLIN - The arrest of Serbian general Ratko Mladic ends the darkest chapter in the history of post-reunification Europe. The Yugoslav Wars, which reached their peak with the Srebrenica massacres and the four-year siege of Sarajevo, proved just how destructive national ideologies in Europe can be. But the wars also bear witness to the failure of European foreign policy—the feuding continent of the 1990s was incapable of resolving the conflict. It required the leadership of a world power—the United States—and the Dayton Agreement in 1995 to bring an end to more than three years of war and killing.

One wishes that the architect of the agreement, recently deceased U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, could have lived to see the moment when the last of the three major criminal Serbian warmongers was finally captured and turned over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Along with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, the president of the Republic of Srpska, Mladic was part of a bloodthirsty trio whose Greater Serbian ideology turned the Balkans into the nightmare of Europe, a showcase for genocide, torture, expulsion and mass rape.

That Mladic, the last of the three to be captured, is finally in custody speaks well for the perseverance of the international community. But it's also a success story for Europe, which after its mistakes during the Balkan wars was later all the more persistent about making EU membership for Serbia and other post-Yugoslav states contingent on the capture and turning over of war criminals. Of the 25 indicted, only one is still at large.

Serbia's readiness to turn over Mladic, once widely regarded in the country as a ‘"war hero," is further indication that post-Yugoslav societies are eager to start a new chapter. Of course, many issues have yet to be resolved. Neither Bosnia-Herzegovina nor Kosovo appear able to function without international peacekeeping forces. Nevertheless, it is clear that the focus is on looking ahead to a joint future within Europe rather than on remaining stuck in the sectarian conflicts of the past.

What these factors show is that the EU is particularly successful as a stabilizing factor when it holds out the prospect of membership, and by extension a rosier future. The "arm" that Soft Power Europe wields is the promise of a better life. And that's an all-around more attractive message than anything a mass murderer like Mladic had to offer.

Read the original article in German

photo - Steffan42

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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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