FBI adds OneCoin founder Ruja Ignatova to its list of most wanted fugitives

FBI adds OneCoin founder Ruja Ignatova to its list of most wanted fugitives
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At London’s Wembley Arena, stage lights flashed, pyrotechnics exploded, and even the flames turned into a cacophony of cheering as Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” played through the speakers. That’s when Ruja Ignatova, nicknamed the “Queen of Crypto”, took the stage in a long, sparkly red dress, promising that cryptocurrency OneCoin would take over the world and become a “bitcoin killer.”

The audience at the 2016 event went wild. In the midst of a crypto boom, OneCoin’s status was rising in the United States and around the world. But the company’s meteoric rise would eventually come to a swift end.

Just a year later, Ignatova disappeared without a trace, and since then authorities in Europe and the United States have tried to catch her. The FBI added Ignatova to the list on Thursday. The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives – a reputation normally given to suspected cartel leaders, terrorists and murderers. Meanwhile, Ignatova is accused of pioneering a pyramid scheme. Defrauded investors over $4 billionone of the greatest in history.

“Today’s announcement is our commitment to redouble our efforts to catch Ignatova, seek justice for her victims and hold her accountable for her crimes,” Damian Williams, US Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference on Thursday. .

Before splashing her face on the wanted poster, Williams said that Ignatova, a German national with Bulgarian ties, had a “sterling resume” that showed a law degree from Oxford University and a consulting job at McKinsey & Company. How Ignatova, the only woman on the most wanted list, joined an alleged murderer and gang leader, is a story that goes back to 2014, when OneCoin was born.

The flashy idea presented to investors and promoted in marketing materials was a revolutionary currency “for anyone to pay anywhere.” [to] everyone, globally,” Ignatova joked at Wembley Arena. OneCoin has promised a cryptocurrency that will surpass all others and allow early users to see their investment deliver “five or ten times” returns, according to a criminal complaint.

But the story not one of the extravagant promises its founders failed to keep – as stated in court documents – for example Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Instead, the researchers argue that OneCoin should have been a Ponzi scheme from the beginning.

Six signs crypto investing is a classic Ponzi scheme

Although supposedly a type of crypto, OneCoin did not actually have a payment system or blockchain model. important technology supporting cryptocurrencies – thus essentially rendering OneCoin’s tokens worthless. Ignatova and the company founders are accused of knowing the same thing. (In a statement to the BBC In 2019, OneCoin denied any wrongdoing.)

According to internal emails obtained by investigators, the purpose of creating OneCoin was to create a “trash money” that would combine the frenzy surrounding crypto with multi-level marketing.

According to federal researchers, OneCoin relied on its users to bring in more participants by offering a range of rewards, commissions and “trade packages” at different price points. Eventually, the investor network expanded to more than a hundred countries. More than 3 million people are believed to have been deceived, prosecutor Williams said on Thursday.

“He appealed to the humanity of the people by promising that OneCoin will change the lives of unbanked people,” Williams said. “And he timed his plan, making perfect use of the wild speculation in the early days of cryptocurrency.”

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But the plan was to “take the money and blame someone else for it,” he wrote in a letter to a co-founder in 2014, according to court documents.

Cracks around OneCoin started to appear around 2016, Insider reportedSweden, Latvia, Norway, Croatia, Italy and Bulgaria, where OneCoin is headquartered, started adding OneCoin to their alert lists about fraudulent operations. Lawsuits soon began pouring in.

Williams said that Ignatova began to fear that law enforcement would catch her, and even eavesdropped on her American boyfriend’s apartment after he began to suspect her. The tapes eventually warned him he was collaborating with the FBI, precipitating his escape plan, she added.

“He immediately boarded a flight from Bulgaria to Greece, accompanied by a security guard. No one piece of luggage. The security guard came back, but Ignatova did not. He has not been seen or heard from since,” Williams said.

Despite her disappearance in October 2017, Ignatova was indicted that month by a federal grand jury and an arrest warrant was issued. She was charged with conspiracy to commit electronic fraud, electronic fraud, conspiracy to launder money, securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Each of the first four offenses is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and the last one is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Crypto scams on the rise, consuming more than $1 billion last year

The fate of OneCoin eventually began to reflect the fate of its founder. The company, which was left to Ignatova’s brother Konstantin Ignatov, floundered after he was arrested by the FBI in 2019. He pleaded guilty to a number of grievous crimes and signed a plea agreement to cooperate with authorities—which suggested he could and would take up the witness protection program. a new identity, according to court documents.

The FBI is now making an offer for the public to assist the investigation, offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to Ignatova’s arrest.

At the 2016 event in London, he said, “I have been called many things and probably the best thing the press called me… was the ‘bitcoin killer’. ”

He can now add “most wanted fugitive” to the list.

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