Geopolitics

Ukraine's "Contagion", Chavez One Year Later, Crazy DSK Poll

Demonstrations go on in Caracas as Venezuela marks Chavez' death one-year anniversary
Demonstrations go on in Caracas as Venezuela marks Chavez' death one-year anniversary
Worldcrunch

CAN U.S. AND RUSSIA START DIALOGUE ON UKRAINE?
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are meeting today in Paris with other world leaders, on the sidelines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon. The encounter will be an attempt “to ease mounting tensions,” according to France24. It comes after Kerry’s threats yesterday to isolate Russia “politically, diplomatically and economically” if the standoff continues over the contested Crimea region of Ukraine. A Russian senator said any sanctions imposed on Russia “should be reciprocal,” as the upper house of the Russian Parliament is looking into ways to freeze European and American assets, Itar-Tass reports.

  • Speaking earlier at a press conference with Spain’s Foreign Minister, Lavrov expressed concern over the situation in Ukraine, which he said was “a multi-faceted problem” and could eventually become "contagious," the BBC reports. Russian Defense Minister General Sergei Shoigu told journalists that groups described by Russia as self-defense organizations are not linked with the Russian army. This comes as a diplomatic source told AFP that a military observation mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe would be sent to Ukraine.

  • Riot police in the eastern city of Donetsk, hometown of deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, evacuated a government building occupied by pro-Russian demonstrators after reports of a bomb in the building. Read more from ITV. Meanwhile, Interfax news agency quoted a Ukrainian military source as saying that Russian forces had seized two Ukrainian missile defense battalions, but the Ukrainian Defense Ministry did not confirm the report, according to Reuters.

  • Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of far-right group Right Sector, which took part in the Maidan protests, was put on the international wanted list, Itar-Tass quotes the spokesperson for Russia’s Investigative Committee as saying. For more on the Ukrainian far-right, read this report from Britain’s Channel 4 news: How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine's power vacuum.

  • The President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso announced the EU would provide 11 billion euros ($15 billion) of financial aid to Ukraine over the next two years, following the U.S. pledge Tuesday to give Ukraine $1 billion. The new government in Kiev said last week it would need $35 billion over the next two years. According to AFP, documents from the central bank show that Russia sold a record $11.3 billion in foreign currency to support the ruble and limit the scale of the currency’s fall on Monday.

  • To better grasp the historical and cultural differences between Ukraine’s west and east, here is a Le Monde/Worldcrunch analysis: Ukraine: Buried By History, Lost In Translation.

CHAVEZ ANNIVERSARY
Anti-government protestors in Venezuela vow to return to the streets on the first anniversary of Hugo Chavez’s death.

DEADLY GUNFIGHT IN SOUTH SUDAN CAPITAL
Witnesses in the South Sudan capital of Juba have told AFP that several people died early this morning following heavy gunfighting, although there has still been no official confirmation of the number of victims. According to local radio station Tamazuj, the fighting started after an argument between soldiers and a military pay committee.

ISRAELI ARMY SHOOTS TWO HEZBOLLAH FIGHTERS
Israeli soldiers shot two Hezbollah fighters who allegedly tried to plant a bomb on the fence separating the Golan Heights (a Syrian territory occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967) and Syrian-held territory, website Ynet news quoted the army as saying. The army spokeswoman did not confirm the condition of the two fighters. This comes as the situation between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is growing increasingly tense, after last week’s air strike by the Israeli army for which Hezbollah vowed to retaliate.

TRIAL OF AL-JAZEERA JOURNALISTS RESUMES IN EGYPT
The trial of three al-Jazeera journalists accused of spreading false news and of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood is to resume today in Egypt. The three men and the news organization deny the charges brought against them. According to the BBC, the trial is “a test of Egypt's army-backed government and its attitude to freedom of the press”.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
Tel Aviv-based Calcalist visits an upscale neighborhood of the city where personal security has become a virtual obsession:
"After a few visits here, you realize that beneath the sleepy surface, layers on top of layers of security have been constructed. At first, security tools and personnel were meant to protect the residents and their belongings — but it has evolved into a service aimed at sweeping out all those who “do not belong,” as they are referred to.
No fewer than 150 security cameras are installed throughout the neighborhood. Most of them are visible to all and installed on fences or attached to the houses they surround. According to Goldberg, the visibility of cameras serves as a deterrence."
Read the full article:
In Upscale Tel Aviv, Where Uber-Security Mentality Reigns.

BLAST KILLS THREE SOLDIERS IN PAKISTAN
At least three soldiers from the Pakistani army were killed by a roadside bomb near the northwestern town of Hangu, Reuters reports. The blast comes two days after an attack in a court that killed 11 people despite a ceasefire between the government and the Taliban.

MIDDLE-EAST ENVOYS TO QATAR RECALLED
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have recalled their envoys to Qatar, saying the move is an attempt “to protect their security and stability,” Al Arabiya reports.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

EMBARRASSING DSK POLL
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is gone but not forgotten from French politics. This poll was so surprising, Le Parisien newspaper didn’t even publish it ...

SELFIE-O-MATIC
Wish you had been part of the greatest selfie of all time? It’s not too late, thanks to this Oscars 2014 selfie generator.

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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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

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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