In the northern city of Brescia, a Pakistani father allegedly tries to kidnap his daughter to stop her from marrying her Indian boyfriend.
Tourists flock to the Verona balcony where Juliet was said to have called out to Romeo (Flickr)
By Beatrice Raspa
Mairano - Shakespeare's telling of the ancient tribal tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, Italy. Now, after the 2006 murder of a young immigrant woman by relatives enraged that she had an Italian boyfriend, northern Italy is again confronted by the very real risks of cross-cultural romance.
A 20-year old woman of Pakistani descent and her Indian boyfriend have fled their hometown of Brescia in an attempt to elope in the nearby town of Mairano. The two escaped lovers are now under protective custody after authorities suspected that the girl's father had hatched a kidnapping plot, having orchestrated a pre-arranged marriage for his daughter in his native Pakistan.
The father, a 54-year old laborer who has 5 children, had rejected overtures by the Indian boyfriend and had allegedly planned a trip back to Pakistan with his family to introduce his daughter to her husband-to-be whom she had never met. It was at that point that the daughter and her boyfriend escaped to Mairano in hopes of having a snap civic marriage.
Police say that following the couple's flight, the father came to them with a bizarre story that involved another one of his daughters. The father told authorities that his 11-year old daughter had received death threats at school from two unknown individuals. The father then returned again to the police station, which set off their suspicion that he might be planning to kidnap his older daughter.
The drama arrived at the doorstep of Piervincenzo Lanzoni, the mayor of Mairano, a small rural town with a growing immigrant community. "All of a sudden I found this desperate couple in my office, after they'd been turned away by the registry for an immediate marriage," said Lanzoni.
The couple did not have all of the requisite paperwork for a legal marriage to move forward, but Lanzoni says he sympathized with the couple who were clearly scared that they were being hunted. "They were very agitated, scared that they might recognized," he said. "They wouldn't even accept lunch in a local restaurant that wanted to give them a free meal."
Italy has been gripped by similar stories in recent years, most notably in 2006 when another 20-year Pakistani woman, Hina Saleem, was stabbed to death by her father and brother-in-law, and then buried in their backyard after her family learned of her relationship with an older Italian man and their plans to move in together.
The father is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence, and the brother-in law 18 years. Saleem's murder sparked national outrage in Italy, which has yet to reconcile the cultural differences that exist among its burgeoning immigrant population. Many of Italy's immigrants arrive from Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East, which further amplifies perceived differences in what is still a predominantly Catholic country.
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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