UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES PUT ON FULL ALERT
Acting Ukrainian President Olexandr Turchynov announced that the country’s armed forces had been put on combat alert, as he fears Russia could launch a continental war, Interfax reports. According to Ria Novosti, Turchynov also admitted that “the power structures are incapable of operatively taking control of the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” amid reports that pro-Russian armed groups have seized more administrative buildings in Eastern Ukraine overnight, including the city council of Horlivka. Read more from AP.
In a new verbal jab against Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to “leave Ukraine alone,” reiterating criticism that Russia had “escalated the situation” since the Geneva deal was struck two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Russian state-run network RT quotes him as saying that NATO must go “back to the work that this alliance was originally created to perform,” which he described as being “to defend alliance territory and advance trans-Atlantic security.”
CHINESE ECONOMY TO OVERTAKE AMERICAN — ALREADY!
The U.S. will lose its century-long crown of the world’s largest economy to China this year, much earlier than previously thought, updated figures from the World Bank show, according to a report in the Financial Times. The new figures also show that India had overtaken Japan to become the third biggest economy in terms of purchasing power. According to the newspaper, “The figures revolutionise the picture of the world’s economic landscape, boosting the importance of large middle-income countries.”
IRAQIS GO TO POLLS AMID DEADLY VIOLENCE
Polls opened this morning in Iraq for the first parliamentary election since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011 with the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expected to be reelected for a third term, despite virtual non-stop violence, reports AFP. Two women were killed in a blast near a polling station in the northern town of Dibs, while militants are reported to have stormed other polling stations in the north. In Baghdad, two mortars landed near polling stations but caused no casualties. Read more from The Guardian.
EVIDENCE OF CHEMICAL ATTACKS IN SYRIA — REPORT
British newspaper The Daily Telegraph says it has obtained evidence that armed forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have recently used chlorine and ammonia in attacks carried out by helicopters in the northeastern parts of the country. Although the government has repeatedly denied having used chemical weapons, the newspaper believes that only the Syrian army has access to aerial power. Yesterday, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced it was sending a mission to investigate other recent allegations of the use of chlorine, while state news agency Sana reported that 58 people had died in mortar and car bomb attacks carried out by the rebels in Damascus and Homs.
La Stampa’s editor-in-chief Mario Calabresi tells a singular story of two Italian sisters who survived Auschwitz. “It was 04/04/1944, an unforgettable sequence of numbers, when Tatiana, 6, and Andra, 4, arrived at the immense camp of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. On that day, they lost their aunt Sonia and grandmother Rosa to the gas chambers. Their mother would have also suffered that fate had she not dressed the girls in matching grey coats. We know today that almost 232,000 children were imprisoned here, yet no more than 50 survived it. The reason these sisters did is because they were mistaken for twins, which was ideal for Dr. Josef “angel of death” Mengele’s experiments.”
Read the full article: Mistaken For Twins: How Two Italian Sisters Survived Auschwitz.
SOUTH KOREA TO BOOST SEARCH FOR FERRY VICTIMS
Search teams in South Korea are preparing to use a specially designed airtight steel chamber called a “diving bell” and which enables divers to stay longer underwater, in a bid to find the 92 people still missing in unexplored parts of the sunken ferry, Yonhap reports. This comes as local officials in the southern region of the country said that half of the survivors had been rescued by fishermen. According to newspaper The Chosun Ilbo, although the coast guards arrived at the scene 40 minutes earlier, footage shows they only rescued the captain and the crew, “while making no attempt to board the capsized ferry and rescue the trapped passengers.” President Park Geun-hye was also criticized by families of the victims who demand a public apology, dismissing her remarks yesterday at a Cabinet meeting as “informal”. In a rare glimmer of good news, 70 of the students who survived the sinking were discharged from hospital and are expected to return to school soon.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
“May God curse every one of those who has failed to free our girls,” said a mother of one of the Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted, ahead of massive demonstration today. Local leader claims to have information that the girls were sold as brides to Islamist fighters in Chad and Cameroon for $12.
New record for Cristiano Ronaldo: The Portuguese soccer star became the first to score 16 goals in a single Champions’ League campaign. Read our By The Numbers feature here.
ALWAYS OTHER COCA-COLAS
We all know how ubiquitous Coca-Cola's red-and-white logo is around the world. But together with its archrival Pepsi-Cola, these U.S.-based cola giants have had to fend off smaller, locally-produced alternatives. Call it the alter-cola revolution. Worldcrunch takes you on a fizzy little tour of the new regional and national cola brands springing up all around the world.
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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
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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