Geopolitics

Rouhani Chides West, Hong Kong Protests, The Who

Nepalese girls celebrate the beginning of the Dashain festival.
Nepalese girls celebrate the beginning of the Dashain festival.

WILL UK JOIN ANTI-ISIS COALITION?
All eyes will be on Westminster today, where the House of Commons will vote on what the British media are calling the “third Iraq war.” Members are expected to support the the anti-ISIS coalition with strikes in Iraq, though Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said these might be extended to Syria in the near future, The Guardian reports.

U.S. airplanes, meanwhile, continued to target ISIS-held oil refineries in northern Syria for a second day. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 140 militants and 13 civilians have been killed so far in the strikes.

EU anti-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove told the BBC that more than 3,000 Europeans were fighting with ISIS, while the FBI says it knows of 12 Americans that have joined the terrorist group. Director James Comey also said that they believed they had identified “Jihadi John,” the man with a British accent shown in the beheading videos.

TALIBAN KILLS DOZENS IN KABUL
More than 100 people were killed in Afghanistan as the Taliban stormed a district near the capital of Kabul after five days of fighting, Reuters reports. This comes just days after the country’s two presidential candidates agreed to end their feud and to form a national unity government.

VERBATIM
“Today's anti-Westernism is a reaction to yesterday's racism," Iran President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, using the occasion of the UN General Assembly to blame Western governments for the violent extremism that has taken root in the Middle East and created widespread instability.

U.S PLANS TO COMPROMISE WITH IRAN
The United States will soften its demands and is willing to meet Iran “close to half way” in the ongoing nuclear talks with Tehran, AP quotes two diplomats as saying. Under the new proposal, Washington would allow Iran to keep “nearly half” of its nuclear project untouched in exchange for more constraints on its potential development for nuclear weapons.

30 EUROS
Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino has backed a plan that will pay Italian families 30 euros a day to host migrants waiting for asylum, as the country's immigration centers struggle to cope with the ever-soaring number of arrivals.

UNITY GOVERNMENT TO RULE GAZA
Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian factions, agreed yesterday to place the civil administration of Gaza under the rule of a unity government led by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, The Jerusalem Post reports. The agreement, reached after two days of reconciliation talks in Cairo, is a breakthrough in the bid to ease the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip and start rebuilding after this summer’s 50-day Israeli offensive, which left over 2,000 dead and 110,000 homeless. Meanwhile, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reports that in his speech at the UN General Assembly later today Abbas will launch a bid to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

STUDENTS JOIN HONG KONG PROTESTS
Close to 1,000 secondary school students joined a week-long protest led by pro-democracy university students in Hong Kong, AFP reports. Yesterday, some 2,000 protesters marched to the residence of Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying to speak to him directly. The civil disobedience campaign come one month after China announced that the candidates in the next local election in 2017 would first be approved by a committee. “The government is ignoring our voices, so I think that if we have so many secondary students boycotting the classes maybe then they will be willing to listen to us,” a young protester said.

NORTH KOREAN LEADER STILL MISSING
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un did not attend yesterday’s parliamentary session, the first time he has missed one since succeeding his father Kim Jong-il and coming to power almost three years ago, Bloomberg reports. The North Korean leader has not been seen in public since Sept. 3, and state media have acknowledged that he is suffering from “discomfort.”

GUESS WHO’S BACK?
Today is the 45th anniversary of the Beatles’ Abbey Road release, as auspicious a time as any for The Who to unveil a new song entitled “Be Lucky.” It’s the group’s first recording in eight years, which will appear in its 50th anniversary compilation to be released later this year. For those preferring Neil Young, the Canadian singer has posted multiple versions of an environmental protest song on his website.

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Economy

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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