5th July 2022 – (Washington) The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently added Dr Ruja Ignatova, the self-styled ‘cryptoqueen’, to its list of the top ten most wanted fugitives, becoming only the 11th woman to be included in the Bureau’s list in its 72 year history.
As per The Indian Express, investigators have accused Ignatova for defrauding victims of more than US$4 billion through the OneCoin cryptocurrency company that she founded in 2014.
The FBI is offering a US$100,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the 42-year-old woman, who has been missing since 2017, when US officials first issued a warrant for her arrest.
Who is Ruja Ignatova?
Born in Bulgaria, Ignatova built an illustrious resume, with a law degree from Oxford and a stint with McKinsey before leading one of the most notorious cryptocurrency scams.
In 2014, as the world was warming up to the idea of cryptocurrency, Ignatova established OneCoin Ltd. She marketed her cryptocurrency as the “bitcoin killer.”
By making false representations, Ignatova received huge amounts of funds from investors.
As part of her grand scheme, she even held public events to lure his unassuming victims. According to the BBC, in early June 2016, she addressed thousands of fans at Wembley Arena and told the cheering crowd that OneCoin was on course to become the world’s biggest cryptocurrency “for everyone to make payments everywhere”.
Many of her investors did not even understand how to invest in cryptocurrency. According to reports, the company operated around the world and had more than three million investors from over a hundred countries.
Good ol’ Ponzi scheme with a virtual twist
At the heart of it, Ignatova’s scheme was nothing but a Ponzi scheme as she promised investors big returns at minimal risk and offered buyers a commission, if they sold OneCoin to more people.
Investigation revealed that between the fourth quarter of 2014 and third quarter of 2016 alone, OneCoin generated a whopping €3.353 billion in sales revenue and earned “profits” of €2.232 billion.
According to Business Today, the global revenue from the scheme was almost $4 billion. While prosecuting 98 individuals, Chinese law enforcement recovered 1.7 billion yuan (US$267.5 million).
The investigation also revealed that she had shared the “exit strategy” for OneCoin with her co-founder as to “take the money and run and blame someone else.”
How did the scam work?
Ignatova and other OneCoin executives defrauded their clients through a series of false and misleading statements.
As for the working of OneCoin, they promised that it was ‘mined’ through mining servers and its value was based on market supply and demand. However, it was never actually mined and its value was determined internally by Ignatova and her co-founder.
Even though they claimed to have blockchain, they could not be actively traded and could not be used to buy anything.
As per an AFP report, OneCoin claimed to have a private blockchain.
“This is in contrast to other virtual currencies, which have a decentralized and public blockchain. In this case, investors were just asked to trust OneCoin,” FBI Special Agent Ronald Shimko said in a statement reported by AFP.
How did she disappear?
Just when her scam started to create smoke, investigating bodies from around the world came knocking on her doors and she disappeared into thin air in 2017.
According to The Indian Express, she found out that her boyfriend was cooperating with an FBI probe into OneCoin. She immediately boarded a flight from Bulgaria to Greece and has not been seen since.
According to a report by The New York Post, investigators have claimed that she might have changed appearance and might be using a fake passport.
The US government has charged her with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
According to The Washington Post, the first four counts each carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, while the last is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
After her disappearance in 2017, her brother Konstantin Ignatove took over the company. He was later arrested by the FBI in Los Angeles in 2019 for wire fraud. Along with him, US corporate lawyer Mark Scott was also convicted in 2019 for laundering $400 million for OneCoin.