By Alex Turner-Cohen, news.com.au
30th January 2023 – (London) The listing of a property in the heart of London has brought a notorious cryptocurrency fugitive who ran a $US4 billion ($A5.6 billion) Ponzi scheme out of the woodwork.
Bulgarian-born German citizen Ruja Ignatova, 42, and a business partner called Sebastian Greenwood conned crypto enthusiasts by claiming their crypto token, OneCoin, would be a “Bitcoin killer”.
They started spruiking it to potential investors in 2014, promising between a fivefold and tenfold return, and referred to their investors as “idiots” and “crazy”.
However, in October 2017, the scammer completely vanished as authorities circled and she hasn’t been seen since.
She is now on the FBI’s list of the 10 most-wanted fugitives and is the only woman currently on the hit list.
Police have warned that she has likely had plastic surgery to change her appearance, with hopes low that she would ever be caught.
But earlier this month, Ms Ignatova reportedly came out of the woodwork to claim one of her properties.
Several days ago, a penthouse apartment in the London suburb of Kensington, England, went up for sale with an asking price of £12.5 ($A21 million) which was then downgraded to £11 million ($A19 million).
It’s understood Ms Ignatova purchased the property under a company name, but a new rule means that the beneficiary of said company must also be named in full.
As a result, lawyers representing Ms Ignatova made a formal claim on the property, listing her as the apartment’s “beneficial owner” in a filing with the UK’s financial regulator.
Ruja Ignatova is one of the FBI’s most wanted.
A change in the rules of Companies House — the UK equivalent of ASIC — forced Ms Ignatova out of hiding, as she had to be named in full rather than just her shell company.
Previously, the property belonged to a company called Abbots House Penthouse Limited, based in Guernsey, a well-known tax haven with very little government oversight.
It meant Ms Ignatova was kept out of public records and land registry deeds — until now.
Prestige property seller Knight Frank advertised the property but swiftly took the listing down after it emerged that Ms Ignatova had links to it.
Investigative reporter Jamie Bartlett, host of The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast, in conjunction with the BBC, initially flagged a tenuous link between the fraudster and the penthouse.
Now this link has been confirmed. Mr Bartlett said it could be a breakthrough.
“The world’s most wanted woman is now officially listed as the ultimate beneficial owner of a London penthouse,” he told iNews.
“It suggests she is still alive, and there are documents out there somewhere which contain vital clues as to her recent whereabouts.
“If nothing else it should make it easier for the authorities to freeze that asset – and maybe even start getting money back to victims.”
The US Department of Prosecutions has charged Ms Ignatova with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud.
The FBI launched their most wanted list in 1950 and of the 529 fugitives that have earned an honourable mention, she’s one of just 11 women.
They are desperate to get their hands on the conwoman, offering a $US100,000 reward for intel that ultimately leads to her arrest.
The crypto queen possibly travelled on a German passport from Athens, possibly to the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Russia, Eastern Europe or even back to Bulgaria, the FBI has said.
The US lawyer prosecuting Ms Ignatova, Damian Williams, released a damning statement last month where he said her crypto tokens were useless.
“In fact, OneCoins were entirely worthless,” he said, per CNN.
“(Her) lies were designed with one goal, to get everyday people all over the world to part with their hard-earned money.”
“She left with a tremendous amount of cash,” FBI spokesman Michael Driscoll added.
“Money can buy a lot of friends, and I would imagine she’s taking advantage of that.”
Ms Ignatova’s associates haven’t been as lucky.
OneCoin’s other co-founder, Sebastian Greenwood, also fled.
Unlike Ms Ignatova, however, he didn’t stay free for very long.
Back July 2018 he was arrested in Koh Samui, Thailand, and extradited to the US where he pleaded guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money. He will be sentenced in April and could receive up to 20 years in prison.
Ms Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin Ignatova, took over the operation after she fled.
He was arrested in March 2019 at LA Airport as he was about to board a flight to Bulgaria.
Since then, he has pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and fraud charges, and is due to be sentenced next month.
OneCoin is no longer operational, with the token unusable and the website inactive.