Tuesday, November 11, 2014
APEC SUMMIT ENDS WITH CHINESE FREE-TRADE PROGRESS
After two days of meetings at the Beijing-hosted Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, leaders of the 21 regional economies agreed to begin work toward possible adoption of a free-trade pact proposed by China, AP reports. A two-year study of the initiative will be launched with the U.S. and Russia also on board, a decision that China’s Xi Jinping described as a “historic step.” Beijing and Washington also reached a breakthrough in bilateral talks over a possible free trade deal on information technology products.
The summit saw U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin briefly meet to talk about Ukraine, Syria and Iran, the White House said. But although the two leaders tried to be nice to each other in front of cameras, AP writes that “away from the cameras, the two leaders are circling each other warily.”
SOUTH KOREA FERRY CAPTAIN GETS 36-YEAR JAIL SENTENCE
The captain of the South Korean ferry which sank in April has been sentenced to 36 years in prison after being found guilty of abandoning the passengers, news agency Yonhap reports. He was however acquitted of homicide charges for which he faced death penalty, and families of the victims reacted furiously to the acquittal. Prosecutors were quick to announce that they would appeal the decision. Fourteen other crew members were handed sentences from five to 30 years of imprisonment.
COULD ISIS RISE LEAD TO SYRIAN PEACE?
The United Nations mediator in the Syrian conflict, Staffan de Mistura, said in an interview with the BBCthat the rise of ISIS was “a new factor which can turn into the possibility of looking at this conflict in a different way,” as terrorist groups like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front are fighting each other, as well as against moderate rebel groups and Syrian government forces. According to de Mistura, the rise of a common enemy could bring an new opportunity to solve the civil war, now in its fourth year.
The White House meanwhile still cannot confirm whether ISIS leader al-Baghdadi was killed or wounded this weekend in airstrikes in Iraq, but CNN suggests that his death might change little in the terrorist group.
Activists from the Israeli Druze religious minority issued a statement yesterday in which they accused Tel Aviv of supporting ISIS and al-Nusra and other anti-Assad factions by supplying them with weapons and enabling their fighters to be treated in Israeli hospitals, i24 News reports. Responding to the accusations, a military spokesman said that the Israeli army “have been engaged in humanitarian, life-saving aid to wounded Syrians, irrespective of their identity.”
Writing in Bogota daily El Espectador, Ana María Cano Posada tears into the proliferation of self-help motivational marketers in our society, who she says “aren't philosophers, as they were in ancient Greece, when wise men like Plato and Aristotle believed humans could change their perspective on life and left their pupils with questions to reflect on. That, after all, would be too risky. What they offer instead are infallible answers and formulae. And with so many religions in disgrace, they're able to set up shop in what has become a no man's land, a spiritual void that is for grabs and ready for exploitation.”
Read the full article, Hawking Happiness, Risk-Free Religion For Our Vacant Consumer Society.
HONG KONG PROTESTERS THREATENED WITH ARREST
Protesters still camping in the streets of Hong Kong six weeks after the pro-democracy Occupy central movement now could face imminent arrest after a court order authorised the police to remove them from sites in the city, AFP reports.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
CALIFORNIA NURSES ON STRIKE OVER EBOLA
An estimated 18,000 nurses will go on a two-day strike starting today in California to demand 2,000 more jobs, better social protections and more training, NPR reports. But the main focus of their protest will be what they see as a lack of preparedness to face the Ebola virus. Demands for better training and equipment to face a potential outbreak will also be at the center of demonstrations across the country in a “National Day of Action” on Wednesday. Meanwhile in New York, the doctor who became the first person to be infected in the city will be released from hospital today after being declared free of the virus. But in West Africa, charities are warning that up to one in seven pregnant women risk dying in childbirth in the next 12 months because they are denied access to basic emergency care.
BY THE NUMBERS
Eight Indian women have died and dozens are said to be in a critical condition after undergoing sterilization surgery as part of a state-run effort to curb the country's population.They were given 1,400 rupees — $23 — as an incentive to undergo the procedure.
The Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre is earning itself a new nickname, “the naked capital,” after four reported cases of people (three women and one transvestite) seen running au naturel in the city’s streets in last 11 days, local newspaper Diario Catarinense reports. It’s not clear how it got started, but the trend risks going viral now with its very own new mobile phone game.
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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