Trump, Erdogan And The Limits Of Democracy

Violence breaks out in Washington during Erdogan's visit
Violence breaks out in Washington during Erdogan's visit
Rebecca Aydin


For the past 36 hours, Washington has been consumed by a pair of scandals that even eternally moderate commentators now say has spread the whiff of possible doom around the Trump presidency. On Monday it was the Washington Post that revealed that Donald Trump had divulged classified counter-terrorism information last week to Russia, potentially compromising U.S. intelligence sharing with allies. Yesterday, it was the turn of The New York Times, which broke the news that Trump had requested in February that then FBI Director James Comey halt the investigation against National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Whether this turns out to be the final implosion of his presidency, Trump is trying to maintain his schedule, which includes the start of his first foreign trip later this week. But on Tuesday, the agenda was already complicated even under normal circumstances, with a much-anticipated visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Two major issues are currently driving a stake between U.S. and Turkey relations. The first regards Turkey's wish to extradite exiled Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen from his current home in the U.S., with Ankara blaming last summer's failed coup attempt in Turkey on Gülen. The second, and more pressing, regards the Kurdish question. The U.S. has decided to directly arm the Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS. Erdoğan sees such support as undermining his government's attempt to limit the longtime push for Kurdish autonomy on Turkish territory.

While inside the White House the two presidents politely agreed to disagree, outside Erdoğan's own bodyguards were beating up peaceful Kurdish protesters near the Turkish Embassy, just a ten-minute stroll away. Videos show men with bloodied faces and shirts, and one protester holding a megaphone getting kicked in the head by a man in a suit. Nine people were injured and two were arrested following the scuffle.

This is not the first instance of belligerence from Erdoğan's security detail in the U.S. In September 2014, they assaulted Turkish reporters outside of a New York hotel where Erdoğan and Vice President Biden were meeting. In March 2016, they were involved in an altercation outside the Brookings Institution in Washington during the Nuclear Security Summit.

Few contest that both Erdoğan and Trump, in 2014 and 2016, were democratically elected to lead their respective nations. But a democracy can only live up to its name if its chosen leaders understand that their personal authority ends where the rule of law begins.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!