Ruja Ignatova, ‘Queen of Crypto’ on the FBI’s list of most wanted refugees

Ruja Ignatova became the first cryptocurrency refugee to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List on Thursday. His cryptocurrency project – called OneCoin – has proven to be one of the biggest financial scams since Bernard Madoff.

She disappeared five years ago. The FBI decided on Thursday, June 30, to make Ruja Ignatova one of its priority targets. Suspected of organizing the biggest scam in the history of cryptocurrency and one of the most expensive ever for victims, this 42-year-old Bulgarian, who called himself “the queen of the crypt”, was placed on the famous list of the ten most wanted criminals in USA.

The FBI is offering up to $ 100,000 to help find this woman. One month earlier, Europol had done the same and promised 5,000 euros for any information leading to his arrest.

The High Priestess of the OneCoin cryptocurrency

“She is one of the biggest criminals still at large,” assured Vice-page Jamie Bartlett, a British journalist who spent his last years tracking down Ruja Ignatova and even hosted a podcast for a year. for the BBC. “the queen of crypto”. He is even amazed that it took so long to place her on the world’s most wanted refugee lists.

For him, she has little to envy Bernard Madoff, the famous American financial swindler who lost more than $ 60 billion to the victims of his scam in the late 2000s. Ruja’s scam Ignatova cost at least $ 4 billion to millions of victims. in almost 70 countries.

If its history is not better known to the general public, it is primarily because it raged in the world of cryptocurrencies at a time when bitcoin and other dematerialized currencies were not yet so much in the media spotlight. . But his crazy crime epic, which began in 2014, contains characters who are all more dubious than each other, even in the ranks of mafia groups in Eastern Europe.

Ruja Ignatova is the creator of OneCoin, one of countless cryptocurrencies that have tried to overshadow bitcoin over the past decade. But unlike 99% of other benchmark cryptocurrency competitors, OneCoin had managed to attract the interest of a wide audience, far beyond the traditional circle of insiders. There is a large literature of press articles on portraits of victims ranging from the suburbs of Glasgow to the rural areas of Uganda or even on the French-Belgian border.

At the height of her fame, in 2016, Ruja Ignatova was able to fill prestigious halls such as Wembley Arena in London to pay tribute to the supposed virtues of her OneCoin, which was to “replace bitcoin in less than two years”.

It was not so much the “characteristics” of her cryptocurrency as Ruja Ignatova’s personality that convinced so many people – officially OneCoin had 3 million investors in 2016 – to follow her. She seemed reassuring, confident in herself and knew how to highlight her law degree and the work she claimed to have done for the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Ruja Ignatova had also offered herself an infomercial in the Bulgarian version of Forbes magazine and appeared as one of the keynote speakers at an event presented as sponsored by The Economist magazine, but which was actually funded 100% by OneCoin.

A small sect, a lot of pyramid sales

It had also been able to attract specialists in multi-level sales, these pyramid sales systems, which ultimately only benefit those at the top of the pyramid financially.

And that was the real nature of OneCoin. Ruja Ignatova only sold “crypto-vent” to members of her community, asking them to essentially buy – with real currencies – this counterfeit money, which at the time was impossible to exchange in real hard currency.

As in any pyramid scheme, the “crypto-queen” and her acolytes promised to compensate those who recruited new members of the “family”.

Because that’s how Ruja Ignatova referred to all members of the OneCoin “club”. A system that had “similarities with millennial sects”, assured BBC Eileen Barker, specialist in sectarian movements at the London School of Economics. “People think they’re part of a big project and invested in something that will change the world, and it’s almost impossible to get them to admit they were wrong,” she explains.

And as in most sects, while the simple members pay, the leaders get rich. French journalist Maxime Grimbert spent months in 2018 following the financial trail to uncover hundreds of frontrunners that enabled Ruja Ignatova and her relatives to buy luxury properties across Europe and lead the “beautiful life”.

However, when financial authorities in several countries – be it Germany, Bulgaria or the UK – issued warnings about OneCoin’s business model, investors / victims began to demand accountability. . In particular, they wanted to know why it was still not possible to convert their OneCoin to dollars or euros.

Ruja Ignatova actually assured that the value of her cryptocurrency had risen thanks to the investments made … While in reality it was the leaders of the project who determined the value of OneCoin as they wanted.

Lost sight of in Greece

In October 2017, she was to officially announce good financial news to increasingly impatient investors during a planned high fair in Lisbon. But she never appeared on stage and has never been seen since.

The FBI discovered that she had taken a plane to Athens two weeks before the conference in Portugal, where she appears to have disappeared. She would have accidentally discovered that her fiancé at the time – whom she had spied on because she suspected him of being unfaithful to him – was collaborating with the FBI, says the Wall Street Journal.

A discovery that would have pushed him to get on his heels as quickly as possible. Since then, the craziest rumors have been circulating: she would have been murdered by disgruntled investors, or would still be hiding in Greece or even in Dubai, she would have returned to Germany, where she grew up, or she would be protected in Bulgaria by Group mafia, which she helped to enrich.

But if we do not know what became of it, the fall of the OneCoin card house is known. After the disappearance of the “queen of the crypt”, it was her brother Konstantin Ignatov who took over the business before handing it over to his mother, then to other more or less suspicious businesswomen and men, all of whom were either arrested or also disappeared from circulation.

No wonder this story interested Hollywood. In 2020, the MGM studio announced the filming of a movie on OneCoin called “Fake!” . The role of Ruja Ignatova should be played by Kate Winslet, an actress accustomed to disaster films like Titanic or Contagion.

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