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Phuket Gazette World News: Singapore police probe ‘unnatural’ death of American CEO of bitcoin trader

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Phuket Gazette World News: Singapore police probe ‘unnatural’ death of American CEO of bitcoin trader | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Singapore police are investigating what they have called the “unnatural” death of a 28-year-old American woman who ran a small exchange that traded virtual currencies, including bitcoins, from the Asian city state.

Autumn Radtke, chief executive of First Meta Pte Ltd, was found dead at her Singapore home on February 26.

“The police are investigating the unnatural death,” a police spokesman said late on Wednesday when asked about media reports Radtke had been found dead last week. He gave no more details.

First Meta said in a statement on its website that its team was shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of its CEO.

“Our deepest condolences go out to her family, friends and loved ones. Autumn was an inspiration to all of us and she will be sorely missed.”

Before heading up First Meta in 2012, Radtke had business development roles at tech startups Xfire and Geodelic Systems, according to information on her LinkedIn profile.

First Meta runs an exchange for virtual currencies and assets. It initially functioned as an online trade platform for the currency used in online world Second Life, and then expanded to other games. Last year it allowed users to sell bitcoins for dollars. That feature is not currently available.

Mt. Gox bitcoin debacle: huge heist or sloppy glitch?

The death of Ms Radtke came just two days before close to half a billion dollars worth of the bitcoin virtual currency disappearing from an exchange in Tokyo in what is either the bank heist of the century or a sloppy glitch, or a combination of the two.

Mark Karpeles, the 28-year-old French CEO of Mt. Gox, which once handled around 80 percent of the world’s bitcoin trades, filed for bankruptcy at a Tokyo District Court last Friday. His lawyer said that nearly all the bitcoins in the exchange’s possession – 850,000 of them – were missing. Karpeles blamed hackers.

At current bitcoin rates on other exchanges, that would mean $473 million (282 million pounds) is lost – around 7 percent of all bitcoins minted.

“If the theft is true,” said Campbell Harvey, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, “it’s the biggest bank heist in history,” aside from when Saddam Hussein ordered his son to withdraw $1 billion from Iraq’s central bank in 2003.

How this happened remains a mystery. But most observers say Mt. Gox’s laxness played a key role in the debacle.

“When I first signed up to it, it was clearly not fit to be a financial services company,” said Jon Rushman, who researches and lectures about bitcoin at England’s University of Warwick. But things got better, he said: “It has been a process of learn-by-doing that they have discovered all sorts of things they should be doing, but were not.”

No official explanation has been forthcoming beyond blaming hackers and weaknesses in Mt. Gox’s system.

A document circulating on the internet that purports to be a crisis strategy paper prepared on behalf of Mt. Gox blamed the hole on a “malleability-related theft which went unnoticed for several years.” Mt. Gox has not confirmed the authenticity of the document.

The phrase, says Ethan Heilman, a research fellow at Boston University, refers to a bug in the bitcoin process whereby someone could trick Mt. Gox into thinking a transaction had failed – and therefore keep repeating it.

This, say Heilman and others, could explain the disappearance of the money – even though the bug has been known for a while, and has been fixed on other exchanges.

Stretching credibility

More problematic is another part of the document’s purported explanation.

Usually bitcoins’ private keys – something similar to a personal bank PIN code – are stored offline, where hackers can’t get them. This ‘cold storage’ is unconnected to the online part – the hot wallet. The document says “the cold storage has been wiped out due to a leak in the hot wallet” – a statement experts say doesn’t make sense.

If true, this suggests the vast majority of Mt. Gox’s bitcoin deposits were leaking out without anyone noticing.

This stretches credibility, says Anthony Hope, who heads compliance for Hong Kong-based bitcoin company MatrixVision. Once Mt. Gox was aware of the malleability bug, why didn’t they check their cold storage? “This is like someone saying that you put your wine in a cellar to keep cool, then someone tells you that a particular vintage had loose corks,” he said. “You’d presumably go into the cellar to ensure your bottles were not affected.”

At Singapore-based Coin Of Sale, Tomas Forgac said: “If this was long-term leakage which went unnoticed, it shows an unbelievable level of incompetence.”

Thousands of socks

If the bitcoins have been stolen, the thief or thieves would have several options to convert them into cash, said Boston University’s Heilman.

They could have used a “mixing service” to mix one group of funds with those of other people. They could also have used a service like localbitcoins.com to trade bitcoins for cash in person. “There are many possibilities for cashing out, although fencing this many bitcoins would be difficult,” he said.

To do that, says Charles McFarland, a research engineer at online security company McAfee, the thief or thieves would have to conceal their tracks by spreading the bitcoin around prior to laundering it into cash.

Trying to do so from a single bitcoin wallet would have been like stuffing thousands of socks in a dryer while everyone else is throwing in only a single pair.

“For this reason it’s a safe bet to say the stolen bitcoins are most likely paid out in numerous wallets so each transaction can hide among the trees,” McFarland said. That, he said, would make it “expensive, if not impossible, to track.”

Knowing whether this was theft or negligence, or both, will take time, and may never happen. U.S. federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Mt. Gox – and other bitcoin businesses – to seek information on a spate of disruptive cyber attacks.

But bitcoin is an unregulated industry, requires no technical audits or risk management procedures – and offers few ways of prosecuting those who might have acted illegally, says Zennon Kapron, who runs a finance consultancy in Shanghai.

“The unfortunate part is that we may never know exactly how this happened,” he says.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough

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EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough | The Thaiger

British and European negotiators headed back into intense negotiations on a draft Brexit deal after late-night talks brought them closer but so far fails to confirm an elusive breakthrough.

Reports that Britain has softened its stance on the customs status of Northern Ireland in order to clinch an accord at this week’s European summit had raised hopes that a chaotic “no-deal Brexit” can be avoided and is driving the pound higher.

But a marathon overnight negotiating session in the EU’s Brussels headquarters brought them to the eve of the meeting with still some distance to go to agree the wording of a treaty to govern the terms of Britain’s October 31 departure from the bloc.

“The teams worked into the night and continue to make progress. The teams will meet again this morning,” a UK official said, describing the talks as “constructive”. He and EU officials said the teams would get back to work at around 9am.

A senior European diplomat told AFP that the negotiators had begun to transcribe the British offer into a legal text that could eventually go before the 28 EU national leaders on Thursday at their European Council summit which begins on Thursday.

But there remain some important differences, he cautioned, while a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity as closed-door negotiations continue, played down hopes that any text would be finalised Wednesday.

Even if a text is prepared for the leaders this week – or if, as many observers in Brussels expect, an extraordinary summit is called later – any deal would have to be approved by a skeptical British parliament, which holds a special session on Saturday.

By agreeing to a form of customs boundary in the Irish Sea, Britain could allow its province of Northern Ireland to remain under EU rules, prevent a return to a hard land border with EU member Ireland and salvage a negotiated withdrawal.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may struggle to convince hardline Conservative eurosceptic MPS and his allies from Northern Ireland’s loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to accept this concession — less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Nevertheless, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay judged that a deal was close enough to justify officials working into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Barnier had said a text must be on the table by Wednesday if member state governments are to have a chance to consider it before the summit, because the 28 national leaders have no plans to themselves debate the details of the agreement.

But if, as now seems likely, the Wednesday deadline is missed, officials said talks could instead resume next week and a special summit be called just in time for Johnson to fulfil his pledge to lead Britain out of the bloc on October 31.

European leaders warn they will not let Britain use Northern Ireland as a back door to the single market and Barnier said Tuesday that “it is high time to turn good intentions into legal text.”

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined why EU officials are driving a hard bargain and hoping Britain will commit to a “level playing field” in post-Brexit trade and commerce.

“One thing is clear, Britain will develop into another competitor on the doorstep of Europe. And therefore the EU will be challenged to become more competitive and to assume geopolitical responsibility.”

Glimmers of hope

“The last moment is always a bit later than you think,” one German government official told AFP, suggesting Brexit would have to be postponed beyond the end of the month if talks are to reach a successful conclusion.

More than three years after Britain’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the European bloc, talks remain stuck on how to avoid customs checks on the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

The EU has reservations about London’s proposed customs arrangements and the role for Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly in giving consent to the plans.

In London, DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC that she wanted to support a deal, but would not do so if she felt it divided Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and added that without her party’s support “everybody knows” it would not pass in parliament.

If no deal is reached by Saturday, Johnson will fall foul of a British law demanding he ask the EU to postpone Brexit for a third time rather than risk a potentially disastrous “no deal” departure.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Myanmar

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar

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Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Burmese surfer Thwe Thwe Soe practicing off the coast of Ngwe Saung – Myanmore

Paddling hard and smiling, Thwe Thwe Soe flung herself up on the board just as a wave was breaking, spreading her arms out for balance before getting knocked off.

“I can’t live without surfing. I did not expect to be chosen for the national team but I’m thrilled at the opportunity.”

Thwe Thwe Soe was speaking after a day in the blue waters off the small coastal resort town of Ngwe Saung. Competitive surfing was barely known in Myanmar a few years ago but one local beach town is riding a wave of enthusiasm to the Southeast Asia Games for the first time ever.

The Southeast Asian country is flanked by surf-ready coasts to the west and south, but decades of military rule, lack of equipment and poverty kept aspiring athletes from testing the waters. The 25 year old encountered the sport while studying in southern California and has been hooked since, saying she “always feels happy” on the water.

Now she is going up against the region’s giants at the December games in the Philippines. Thwe Thwe Soe has one of the best chances to medal among the handful of surfers going, but all are training hard.

“We surf for at least four to six hours a day,” said American coach Robert Brickell, a 26 year old originally from New York.

The mild waves at Ngwe Saung present a paradox for competitive surfers – they are good to learn on but much tamer than the conditions in surfing hotspots. The team went to Bali in Indonesia for two months to get used to some “big wave surfing” and have made enormous strides in a short amount of time, Brickell said.

“My hope is that we can show everybody that people from Myanmar, we know how to surf, we know how to respect the ocean. And of course our hope is to win some meets.”

The Surf Association of Myanmar was established only this year. The sport is slowly gaining prominence thanks to the impassioned surfers, most from a village near the beach and newcomers themselves. Ngwe Saung is the heartland of the growing craze and has now hosted several competitions.

“We hadn’t heard of surfing before 2017. It will be a difficult competition but we will do our best for sure.” said 19 year old Aung Min Naing.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Aspiring new Burmese surfer, Aung Min Naing – MMTimes.com

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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