Friday, November 28, 2014
OIL PRICES CONTINUE TO FALL
Oil prices continued their slide today after OPEC member states refused yesterday to cut their output to force higher prices, Reuters reports. “It was a great decision,” Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said after yesterday’s talks. Iran and Venezuela, whose economies are badly hurt by the low prices, had backed the idea to slash production. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he considered $100 per barrel a fair price, a figure far from the current $72.
Some 250 sheep were grazing at the Champ de Mars near Paris' Eiffel Tower, during a protest yesterday by French farmers demanding measures to fight against a rising number of wolf attacks on their flocks.
EGYPT BRACES FOR ISLAMIST PROTESTS
Egypt security forces are on alert today in preparation for possible violence as Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Front, have called for a day of protests today after dawn prayers, Mada Masr reports. Security authorities have warned that they will use violence if necessary to calm demonstrations. According to Al Jazeera, one senior army officer was killed while security forces arrested more than 100 people ahead of the protests. They also reportedly defused seven bombs in different governorates around Egypt.
Le Temps’ Christophe Catsaros has penned a scathing review of the new Paris modern art museum designed by Frank Gehry. The Louis Vuitton Foundation, as it is called, is a new high-profile cultural offering for the city of lights, but he writes that art's higher calling becomes just a tool of luxury promotion for the ultra-privileged. “Using a cultural project to sell handbags and shoes would not be reprehensible per se if apologists didn't turn it into an ideological act,” the journalist writes. “But that's what's starting to happen. A social mix, education, making knowledge available to the many — all of which are essential components of public cultural policy — are swept aside here in favor of the promotion of splendor and luxury for the ultra-privileged.”
Read the full article, Deconstructing Gehry's Awful New Paris Art Museum.
MEXICO PROMISES POLICE REFORM
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced plans to overhaul local policing in a bid to end rife corruption and to bring calm after the disappearance of 43 students two months ago, The New York Times reports. “These acts of violence demand that we redouble efforts to achieve the full application of rule of law,” Peña Nieto said in a televised address. Hours before, 11 mutilated corpses were found in the same state where the 43 students disappeared and were allegedly massacred.
Phyllis Dorothy James White, better known as "the queen of crime" for the novels she wrote as P. D. James, died peacefully at her home yesterday in Oxford, England, at the age of 94.
THAI PARLIAMENT BANS SURROGACY
Thailand lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to ban commercial surrogacy, a first step to rein in the country’s largely unregulated surrogate baby industry, AFP reports. The decision comes after a series of scandals involving foreign would-be parents. The most publicized was the story of an Australian couple who left one of two babies born from a surrogate mother because the child had Down’s syndrome.
For more on this topic, we offer this Le Nouvel Observateur/Worldcrunch piece, Brave New World: Inside India's First Bonafide Baby Factory.
BY THE NUMBERS
Pakistani actress and Bollywood star Veena Malik has been sentenced to 26 years in prison for "blasphemy" against Islam, after she acted in a scene loosely based on the marriage of the prophet Muhammad's daughter.
NAMIBIA ELECTION FIRST E-POLL IN AFRICA
Namibian voters go to the polls today to choose a new president and parliament, in what will be the first electronic poll in Africa, the BBC reports. Despite protests from opposition parties arguing that the method could encourage vote rigging, the country’s High Court backed the use of e-voting machines. The current prime minister, 73-year-old Hage Geingob, is widely expected to become the new president.
BEHOLD, THE HORIZONTAL ELEVATOR
Germany’s steel conglomerate ThyssenKrupp has unveiled a new technology that would allow it to build cable-free elevators, which could radically change the design of skyscrapers in the future, the Financial Times reports. By using magnetic linear motors instead of cables, the company will be able to build elevators that move horizontally as well as vertically. Check out this expand=1] video to see how the concept works.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
The Black Friday craze has hit Britain, and not in a good way. Police officers have been called to supermarkets across the country today, as the American tradition of mass consumerism makes it way across the ocean. “People were behaving like animals,” a 56-year-old woman told The Guardian. “It was horrible.” This series of Vines says it all.
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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