WAR OF WORDS CONTINUES OVER CRIMEA
Western and Ukrainian leaders stepped up what is still just a war of words over Crimea, four days away from the referendum that could see the disputed region secede from Ukraine. The President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said the G7 and the EU would urge Russia “to cease all efforts to annex” Crimea, Reuters reports.
Speaking to AFP, acting President Olexandr Turchynov called the planned referendum a "sham", before adding: "What they call the referendum will not happen in Crimea but in the offices of the Kremlin." He however said the Ukrainian army would not intervene in the southern region, as that would expose the country’s eastern border. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Turchynov also explains that the people of Ukraine had chosen “Western standards and reject this neo-Soviet imperialism.” His interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk is in Washington today, where we will meet with Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is attempting to launch a parliamentary commission to investigate the sniper shootings that killed both protesters and police officers in the last days of the Kiev riots, Itar-Tass reports. This comes after last week’s leak of a phone conversation between Estonia’s Foreign Minister and the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in which they appear to discuss the possibility that the gunmen had been hired by opposition leaders.
DAY 5, MALAYSIAN PLANE STILL MISSING
There is still no sign of any debris of missing flight MH370 as the search area has been extended to the Andaman Sea, covering now 27,000 square nautical miles with 12 countries participating in the search operations, the BBC reports. At a Wednesday press conference, Malaysian officials said a military radar had detected what could have been the aircraft in an area in the northern part of the Strait of Malacca, echoing earlier reports.
The public is however growing frustrated over the confusion and lack of information, as illustrated by this op-ed in The Malaysian Insider entitled From patience to anger over MH370 search and rescue boo-boos. Tania Branigan, The Guardian’s correspondent summed up the confusion following today’s press conference by tweeting: “What we have learnt: totally different third possible last record of plane”.
Meanwhile, AFP explains that the mystery has attracted all sorts of theories online, with some suggesting that the missing plane was attacked and abducted by aliens. Others prefer to imagine a scenario similar to that of the famous TV series Lost or to blame “The Devil’s Sea”, also known as the "Pacific Bermuda Triangle".
RUSSIA AND IRAN REACH AGREEMENT ON NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS
Moscow and Tehran reached a “primary agreement” for building two nuclear power plants in the port city of Bushehr, in southern Iran,IRNA news agency quotes the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran as saying. According to AFP, the technical and financial details of the project must still be worked out, but a final agreement is expected “very soon”.
DEADLY GANG FIGHTS IN PAKISTAN
At least 12 people, including women and children, have died in fights between two armed gangs in Karachi, with authorities expecting the death toll to rise further as 39 people were also injured, among them 15 school children. According to a senior police official, the gunfight started after one of the gangs had kidnapped a member of the rival group. Read more from Al-Jazeera.
SAN FRANCISCO BLAZE
Check our Snapshot feature here.
CHILE’S MICHELLE BACHELET STARTS SECOND TERM
Chile’s newly elected President Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated yesterday for a second term, after having already led the country between 2006 and 2010, EFE reports. Speaking outside the presidential palace La Moneda, the Socialist vowed to defeat inequality, calling it Chiles’s "one great adversary"
For more on the country’s income gap, we offer this America Economia/Worldcrunch piece: Wealth Divide: Zeroing In On The "One Percent" Of Chile.
La Stampa reporter Mattia Feltri discovers ancient artifacts, contemporary degradation and out-of-order bathrooms in a very different kind of tour of Pompeii :
“"Excuse me, I haven’t been here in 35 years," says the woman. Giovanni, our guide, scratches his head.
“Try over on via dell’Abbondanza, there’s lots of graffiti there,” he says. “It was something like Lucia loves … loves … someone,” the woman says, trying to remember the ancient inscription she hoped to see again. The request may seem odd, but hardly unique. Two other girls ask where the amphitheater is. “That way, two kilometers down.” Another man asks where the Macellum is: “After the arch on the right.”
Then Giovanni takes his guide’s badge off from around his neck, “because if I don’t, they swarm at me like flies.”
"They" are the tourists who come to Pompeii, some more interested than others in the ancient gems scattered around. Among the most incredible jewels in the entire world of archeology, people come from far and wide to see this incredible city that was engulfed and preserved in the lava of Mount Vesuvius.”
Read the full article in English from Worldcrunch: Shut Out In Pompeii, Touring The Ruins Of Modern Italy.
GITMO’S NEW WORD POLICY
Guantanamo officials have, since last December, changed the term to describe prisoners’ hunger strikes, calling them “long-term non-religious fasts”,Vice magazine reveals, quoting an official document obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the report, the use of what they describe as an “ingeniously misleading new term” started at the same time as public affairs officers stopped providing the media with daily statistics on the number of prisoners on hunger strike and being force-fed.
NEIL YOUNG’S DIGITAL CRUSADE
“I want to bring back real music,” says Neil Young.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
The ancient Tibetan Mastiff dog breed is a status symbol in 21st Century China. Read about a twisted lawsuit playing out in a Beijing courtroom here.
NEW CASH VIDEO
Film-director John Hillcoat made a beautiful video clip for a new Johnny Cash song “She Used To Love Me A Lot”, ahead of the release later this month of the Man in Black’s 1980s lost album. Watch it here.
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.
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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