Geopolitics

UN Declares Iraq Emergency, Gaza Truce Extended, Robot Cooks

A Palestinian boy plays amid the rubble of his destroyed family home.
A Palestinian boy plays amid the rubble of his destroyed family home.

Aug. 14, 2014

UN SIGNALS RED ALERT IN IRAQ
The United Nations has declared the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 emergency,” its highest for a humanitarian crisis, as deadly fights between the army and ISIS terrorists killed at least four children west of Baghdad, AP reports.

This came as U.S. troops and aid workers arrived on Mount Sinjar yesterday to help Yazidi refugees taking shelter. According to the Pentagon, the people were fewer in number and in better conditions than earlier thought, making a rescue mission unnecessary, The Washington Post reports.

GAZA TRUCE EXTENDED
Israel and Hamas negotiators agreed late yesterday on a five-day extension to the temporary truce despite Israeli strikes in response to alleged rocket fire in the last hours of the previous ceasefire, The Guardian reports. According to Haaretz, the Palestinian delegation to Cairo will meet with several Palestinian leaders before returning to the Egyptian capital Monday for more talks.

A Wall Street Journal report says that Washington halted the transfer of Hellfire missiles Israel requested during the Gaza offensive. This apparently came after senior U.S. officials “were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval,” the newspaper writes.

VERBATIM
“I can only write one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one book at a time,” Game of Thrones author George RR Martin told the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Four books and four accompanying TV series later, he says he can't rush the two books yet to be completed.

POLICE BRUTALITY IN FERGUSON, MO.
SWAT police officers attacked demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo., last night as they peacefully gathered to protest the Saturday police killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. According to The New York Times, “scores of police officers in riot gear and in armored trucks” trained their guns on the crowd and fired tear gas and rubber bullets, while a police spokesman said protesters threw Molotov cocktails. Several people were arrested, including a Washington Post journalist and two reporters from the The Huffington Post. Read the Washington Post writer’s account here. For more, check out this Slate video of yesterday’s violence.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

As part of a plan that sounds almost like a movie plot, 500 white rhinos are set to be evacuated from South Africa's Kruger National Park and secretly taken to new homes to protect them from poachers. Although international trade in rhino horns has been illegal since 1977, demand remains high in some Asian countries, the BBC reports, where it is used both in traditional medicine and as a symbol of wealth. The Ministry for the Environment made the decision in an effort to stop the illegal hunting. Read more from Worldcrunch’s Zoo’d blog.

RUSSIA RESUMES AID TO UKRAINE
A convoy of more than 100 trucks carrying Russian aid has resumed its journey to eastern Ukraine with its final destination believed to be the rebel-held city of Luhansk, where civilians lack water, food and electricity, the BBC reports. A senior Red Cross official is expected in Kiev and Moscow to discuss aid delivery amid accusations from Kiev that Moscow is using the convoy as cover to send arms to rebels. This comes as separatists in Donetsk said neighborhoods around the city are under heavy shelling from Ukraine government forces.

POPE VISITS S. KOREA AMID MISSILE FIRE
Pope Francis arrived in South Korea early today for the first papal visit to the country in 25 years, just hours after North Korea fired at least five short-range missiles. Speaking in English at a press conference with President Park Geun-hye, the pontiff said dialogue, not "displays of force," would bring peace between the two countries. Read more from AFP.

BRAZILIAN CANDIDATE DIES IN PLANE CRASH
Brazilian presidential candidate and leader of the country's Socialist Party Eduardo Campos, 49, was among those killed in the crash of a small plane in Santos, Brazil, Wednesday morning, the country's state news outlet Agencia Brasil reported.

0%
The eurozone's gross domestic product (GDP) stagnated in 2014's second quarter, recording zero growth, according to the statistical office of the European Union, Eurostat.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD

ROBOT COOKS
Automation is spreading fast in China, the world’s biggest consumer of industrial robots, which are now used to stir-fry meat and vegetables and welcome customers in this restaurant near Shanghai.

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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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