FBI adds Ruja Ignatova, former leader of OneCoin cryptocurrency scheme, to list of ten most wanted over running ‘one of largest Ponzi schemes in history’
A woman charged with taking advantage of the fervour around cryptocurrencies to carry out one of the biggest scams in history has been added to the FBI‘s list of its ten most-wanted fugitives.
Oxford-educated Ruja Ignatova, nicknamed the “Cryptoqueen”, ran the Bulgaria-based OneCoin cryptocurrency venture, which a federal prosecutor called “one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history”.
“She timed her scheme perfectly, capitalising on the frenzied speculation of the early days of cryptocurrency,” said Manhattan federal prosecutor Damian Williams.
The FBI in 2019 charged Ignatova, a German citizen, with eight counts including wire fraud and securities fraud over the scheme.
Prosecutors allege the company offered commissions to members to entice others to buy the worthless cryptocurrency.
Ignatova was OneCoin’s high-profile leader, touring the world and addressing crowded events, telling them that OneCoin was a “Bitcoin killer”.
She disappeared in late 2017 after bugging an apartment belonging to her American boyfriend and learning he was cooperating with an FBI probe into OneCoin, Williams said.
She boarded a flight from Bulgaria to Greece and has not been seen since, he said.
‘Tremendous amount of cash’
The FBI is offering $100,000 (£83,000) for information leading to Ignatova’s capture, according to Michael Driscoll, the FBI’s assistant director-in-charge in New York.
“She left with a tremendous amount of cash,” Driscoll told a press event. “Money can buy a lot of friends, and I would imagine she’s taking advantage of that.”
Ignatova was charged alongside Mark Scott, a former corporate lawyer who prosecutors said laundered about $400m for OneCoin.
Scott was found guilty earlier this month of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, following a three-week trial in Manhattan federal court.
Ignatova may have purchased about 48.5m euros (£42m) worth of OneCoin’s supposed rival Bitcoin in 2015, according to leaked Dubai court documents, the BBC reported.
If true, this would make her one of Bitcoin’s largest holders, with the stake being worth a peak of nearly $15bn in November 2021, although it would now have dropped to about $5bn.
Ignatova supposedly purchased the Bitcoin from a royal of the United Arab Emirates on four USB sticks containing an unspecified number of cold-storage Bitcoin wallets.
Lawyers for the sheikh in question told the BBC their information was “baseless”.