Who is Ruja Ignatova? ‘Cryptoqueen’ now on FBI’s most wanted list for ‘cheating investors out of $4 billion’
New Delhi: Ruja Ignatova, better known as “cryptoqueen”, is now the only woman on the list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, alongside assassins and gang leaders. But Ignatova is not a murderer.
She is the founder of OneCoin, a Bulgaria-based virtual currency that the 42-year-old created in 2014 and marketed as “Bitcoin killer”. Only the 11th woman to appear on the FBI’s most wanted list, Ignatova vanished into thin air in 2017, allegedly with billions of dollars in investor money.
Ignatova – a former consultant at McKinsey & Company, she also had a law degree from Oxford University – was charged with defraud investors to the tune of over $4 billion (Rs 31,000 crore).
“Ignatova and her partner promoted OneCoin through a multi-level marketing strategy that urged OneCoin investors to sell additional packages to friends and family. Ignatova has capitalized on the excitement surrounding cryptocurrencies to attract new investors,” said the FBI said June 30. announcing his addition to the list and offering a reward of “up to $100,000 for information”.
Ignatova, who claimed that OneCoin was the “most transparent and legal” virtual currency on the market, now faces several federal royaltiesincluding that of “electronic fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and securities fraud”.
But the meteoric rise of OneCoin, which the FBI has now labeled an “international pyramid scheme,” did not happen behind closed doors. In 2016, a big event took place to mark OneCoin’s two-year anniversary.
As she took the stage amid thunderous lights, music and applause, Ignatova claims“Today we have two million active users. No other cryptocurrency has as many users as we do.
Mocking other virtual currencies like “Mickey Mouse coins,” it was at this event that Ignatova outlined her vision for OneCoin, which she described as a “global currency for global businesses.”
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Unlike conventional cryptocurrencies, OneCoin was not mined through public blockchains, which is a shared ledger that tracks transactions and distributes them across an entire network of computers.
According to the FBI special agent investigating the case: “OneCoin claimed to have a private blockchain. This contrasts with other virtual currencies, which have a decentralized and public blockchain. In this case, investors were simply told to trust OneCoin.
In other words, unlike most cryptocurrencies, OneCoin prices did not fluctuate in tandem with demand and supply, giving owners the sole power to decide the price of a single OneCoin. And due to the type of cryptocurrency it was, it could not be used to make purchases anywhere in the world; OneCoin was essentially worthless.
Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, at a press conference on Thursday, said that over three million investors from over 100 countries had invested in OneCoin.
Investors were widely encouraged to convince more and more people to invest in the “OneCoin community”, for which they were offered incentives.
OneCoin, which was promised to investors as the gateway to a new community, would always have been a pyramid scheme – a fraudulent scheme in which money is collected from investors based on a recruiting and routed straight to the top; in this case, to Ignatova.
The disappearance of Ignatova
According The Washington PostCourt documents show that in an email, she would have wrote to a co-founder in 2014, Ignatova said “take the money and run and blame someone else for it” – suggesting that was her plan from the start.
According to a report by Market Insider“Right from the start, regulators sensed something was wrong. Bulgaria’s Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) warned of the risks associated with cryptocurrencies like OneCoin in 2015, when cryptocurrency was just getting started.
The report adds that in 2016, authorities in Croatia, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Hungary, Italy, and several other countries began warning investors or cracking down on OneCoin in their respective countries.
In 2017, investigative agencies in India recorded a case against OneCoin; Ignatova was identified as a defendant in the indictment by Navi Mumbai Police later the same year.
A few days after the first arrest warrant against her was issued in the United States on October 12, 2017, Ignatova fled Sofia in Bulgaria for Athens in Greece on October 25 of the same year, and has not been seen since.
Besides the arrest warrants issued against her in several countries, another factor that could have prompted Ignatova to flee was distrust of her boyfriend.
According to his brother’s testimony in court, after he began to suspicious her boyfriend to “chain her up” in 2017, Ruja rented an apartment to Florida to allay his suspicions. But to her surprise, she discovered that her boyfriend had been cooperating with the FBI. Ignatova finally disappeared a few weeks later.
Ignatova’s brother Konstantin Ignatov – who became the face of the company after her disappearance – was arrested in 2019 and later pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including money laundering and fraud. That same year, Mark Scott, a lawyer employed by OneCoin, was also sentenced to launder $400 million.
(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)
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