September 23, 2023
How ‘Cryptoqueen’ Ruja Ignatova ended up as the one girl on the FBI’s most-wanted checklist


Ruja Ignatova strode onto the stage in a flowing burgundy ball robe adorned with black sparkles. Beams of sunshine flashed, fireballs erupted and Alicia Keys’ “Woman on Fireplace” blared by means of the audio system.

“Seems to be like a lady, however she’s a flame. So vivid, she will be able to burn your eyes – higher look the opposite approach,” the song crooned as a beaming Ignatova thanked the cheering crowd at London’s Wembley Area.

That was in June 2016, when cryptocurrency was an rising buzzword and traders have been scrambling to money in. Ignatova known as herself the “Cryptoqueen” and touted her firm, OneCoin, as a profitable rival to Bitcoin within the rising cryptocurrency market.

“In two years, no one will talk about Bitcoin anymore,” she stated, as traders applauded and whistled.

Sixteen months later, Ignatova boarded a airplane in Sofia, Bulgaria, and vanished. She hasn’t been seen since.

Authorities say OneCoin was a pyramid scheme that defrauded individuals out of greater than $4 billion as Ignatova satisfied traders within the US and across the globe to throw fistfuls of money at her firm. Federal prosecutors describe OneCoin as one of many largest worldwide fraud schemes ever perpetrated.

Ruja Ignatova is one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted fugitives -- the only woman currently on that list.

She is now one of many FBI’s 10 most-wanted fugitives, alongside accused gang leaders and murderers, and is the one girl at the moment on that checklist. Of the 529 fugitives on the FBI’s checklist because it launched in 1950, she’s considered one of simply 11 ladies.

Ignatova and her companions “conned unsuspecting victims out of billions of {dollars}, claiming that OneCoin can be the ‘Bitcoin killer,’” US Legal professional Damian Williams, New York’s high prosecutor, stated in an announcement final month.

“Actually, OneCoins have been solely nugatory … (Their) lies have been designed with one purpose, to get on a regular basis individuals all around the world to half with their hard-earned cash.”

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Since Ignatova disappeared in October 2017, her face has been plastered on the FBI web site and throughout main information retailers worldwide. She’s additionally one of the wished fugitives in Europe.

On the backside of her FBI wished poster is a word: “Ignatova is believed to journey with armed guards and/or associates. Ignatova might have had cosmetic surgery or in any other case altered her look.”

The FBI says it picks fugitives for the checklist primarily based on the size of their prison data and the way harmful they might be. It additionally favors fugitives who should not well-known to maximise the good thing about this system’s nationwide publicity.

The bureau declined to supply extra particulars to CNN past court docket paperwork from the US Division of Justice, which didn’t checklist an legal professional for Ignatova. “This case is an ongoing investigation. We’re unable to remark past what has already been launched publicly,” stated Daniel Crifo, a spokesperson for the FBI workplace in New York.

However court docket paperwork element a mind-blowing narrative: how Ignatova and her OneCoin co-founder, Karl Sebastian Greenwood, have been allegedly conscious from the beginning that their bold enterprise was a Ponzi scheme.

“The cryptocurrency OneCoin was established for the only real function of defrauding traders,” IRS Particular Agent John R. Tafur stated in an announcement.

Ignatova called herself the

Whereas Greenwood and Ignatova have been engaged on the idea for OneCoin, they referred to it in emails as a “trashy coin,” federal officers stated in court docket paperwork. The paperwork present Greenwood described their traders as “idiots” and “loopy” in an e mail to Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin Ignatov, who additionally took half within the rip-off and assumed OneCoin management after his sister vanished, based on prosecutors.

“It won’t be (one thing) actually clear or that I usually work on and even will be pleased with (besides with you in personal once we make the cash),” Ignatova wrote to Greenwood in 2014.

She additionally proposed an exit technique ought to the corporate fail, saying in a 2014 e mail to Greenwood that they need to “take the cash and run and blame any person else for this.”

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Ruja Ignatova, 42, is a German citizen however was born in Bulgaria, the place her father was an engineer and her mom was a instructor.

In his e-book, “The Lacking Crypto Queen,” creator Jamie Bartlett detailed her rise from modest beginnings to entrepreneurial stardom.

When she was a lady, her household moved to Germany, the place Ignatova excelled as a scholar and spent her free time finding out and enjoying chess, Bartlett wrote. Classmates described her as sensible, pushed and aloof.

Ignatova received a scholarship to a college in Konstanz, Germany, the place she met and married a fellow legislation scholar. She maintained she didn’t need youngsters, Bartlett wrote, as a result of they’d get in the way in which of her buying wealth.

She additionally informed individuals she wished to be a millionaire by age 30.

“She desperately wished to be wealthy, even devouring books within the early hours about find out how to become profitable,” Bartlett wrote.

After finding out European legislation at Oxford College, Ignatova landed a job in Sofia as a guide for McKinsey & Firm, the worldwide administration consulting agency.

Shoppers trusted her and associated to her rise from humble beginnings and fierce need to be wealthy, Bartlett wrote. Her fluency in languages, together with Russian, German, English and Bulgarian, additionally helped.

Appearances mattered to Ignatova, who usually attended occasions in night robes and vivid crimson lipstick, with diamonds dangling from her ears.

“Every part exhibited success and glamor,” Bartlett wrote. “She was obsessive about type and picture.”

Konstantin Ignatov pleaded guilty to fraud and related charges in connection to his sister's company. He's scheduled to be sentenced in February.

Cryptocurrencies akin to bitcoin are digital belongings created and managed by a world, decentralized community of computer systems as a substitute of a financial institution or authorities. Bitcoin, for instance, is “mined,” or created, by skilled crypto miners utilizing armies of servers in knowledge facilities.

It’s a largely unregulated and extremely unstable trade, and skilled opinions on the viability of crypto run the gamut. Advocates broadly envision a future during which economies run on digital currencies validated by the group of customers reasonably by a central financial institution. Critics dismiss it as a Ponzi scheme or, at minimal, a extremely dangerous funding.

In 2014, Ignatova and Greenwood, her co-founder, began pitching OneCoin to traders in Europe, New York and around the globe. They hosted on-line webinars and conferences the place they urged potential traders to deposit funds in an account that might allow the acquisition of OneCoin packages, based on a federal indictment.

OneCoin operated as a multilevel advertising and marketing community during which traders acquired commissions for recruiting others to purchase cryptocurrency packages, federal prosecutors stated. The packages catered to numerous revenue ranges, from “starter” to “tycoon dealer.”

Ignatova and her companions promised patrons a fivefold and even tenfold return on their funding, based on court docket paperwork.

OneCoin co-founder Karl Sebastian Greenwood, seen in 2016. He later pleaded guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money.

A shopping for frenzy ensued. Between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, traders gave OneCoin greater than $4 billion, federal prosecutors stated, citing data obtained in the midst of their investigation. Some $50 million got here from traders within the US, based on court docket paperwork.

“She timed her scheme completely, capitalizing on the frenzied hypothesis of the early days of cryptocurrency,” stated Williams, the highest federal prosecutor in Manhattan.

OneCoins weren’t mined like different cryptocurrencies, federal investigators stated. As a substitute of armies of highly effective servers, OneCoin was generated by a bit of software program, court docket paperwork stated.

Federal prosecutors stated that in an e mail to Greenwood in August 2014, Ignatova wrote, “We’re not mining truly however telling individuals sh*t.”

OneCoin’s worth was not primarily based on market provide and demand like different cryptocurrency, prosecutors stated, however merely manipulated privately by OneCoin itself.

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The facade began cracking in 2016 when traders had a tough time promoting their OneCoins to recoup their authentic investments, court docket paperwork say.

Phrase started to unfold on-line that the enterprise was a rip-off. Media retailers began asking questions. Worldwide and US federal investigators bought concerned.

It’s not clear what occurred to Ignatova’s marriage. However the FBI stated she realized OneCoin was being investigated after she bugged an residence belonging to her American boyfriend and came upon he was cooperating with a federal probe into her firm’s practices.

In October 2017, the US Division of Justice charged Ignatova with one rely every of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit cash laundering, every of which carries a most sentence of 20 years in jail. She additionally was charged with one rely of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, which carries a most five-year sentence. A federal decide in New York issued a warrant for her arrest.

Lower than two weeks later, on October 25, 2017, she boarded a business flight from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece, court docket paperwork stated.

Then she disappeared, leaving her enterprise companions to take the autumn for the failing firm.

The FBI stated it believes she might have traveled on a German passport from Athens, probably to the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Russia, Jap Europe and even again to Bulgaria. It’s providing a $100,000 reward for data resulting in her arrest.

“She left with an amazing amount of money,” Michael Driscoll, the FBI’s assistant director-in-charge in New York, informed reporters. “Cash can purchase a variety of pals, and I might think about she’s making the most of that.”

Her companions weren’t so fortunate. Greenwood was arrested in July 2018 at his house in Koh Samui, Thailand, and extradited to the US. He pleaded responsible in December to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder cash. He’s in jail and faces 20 years in jail for every of the three counts when he’s sentenced in April.

Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin Ignatov, was arrested in March 2019 at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport. He’d traveled to the US on enterprise and was making ready to board his return flight to Bulgaria when 5 giant males in fits handcuffed him and took him to an interrogation room, the place they peppered him with questions on his lacking sister, Bartlett wrote.

Ignatov pleaded responsible to wire fraud conspiracy, cash laundering and fraud prices, and is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

OneCoin has shut down and its web site is not lively.

However its founder, the girl within the lengthy robes and flashy jewellery, has eluded authorities. Greater than 5 years after the Cryptoqueen bought off a airplane in Greece, her whereabouts stay a thriller.

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