The FBI has added OneCoin founder Ruja Ignatova to its list of wanted fugitives

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At London’s Wembley Arena, stage lights flashed, fireworks exploded and even flames repelled as Alicia Keys chanted “Girl on Fire” over the speakers. That’s when Ruja Ignatova, dubbed “Cryptoqueen,” took to the stage in a long, shiny red dress, promising her cryptocurrency, OneCoin, to take over the world and become a “Bitcoin Killer.”

The audience at the 2016 event went wild. Amid the crypto boom, OneCoin’s stature has been rising in the United States and across the world. But the company’s skyrocketing rise will eventually meet a swift end.

Only a year later, Ignatova disappeared without a trace, and the authorities in Europe and the United States have since tried to arrest her. On Thursday, the FBI added Ignatova to its list Ten wanted fugitives Notoriety usually bestowed on suspected cartel leaders, terrorists, and murderers. Meanwhile, Ignatova is accused of leading a pyramid scheme Defrauding investors of more than 4 billion dollarsone considered among the largest in history.

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

Williams said that before her face splattered on a wanted poster, Ignatova, a German national with Bulgarian ties, had an “excellent resume” offering a law degree from Oxford University and a consulting job at McKinsey & Company. How Ignatova, the only woman on the list of wanted fugitives, came to join the list of alleged killers and gang leaders, is a story that goes back to 2014, when OneCoin was born.

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The flashy idea that was shown to investors and promoted via marketing materials was a revolutionary currency “for everyone to make payments everywhere, [to] Everyone, globally,” Ignatova sarcastically said at Wembley Arena. OneCoin promised a cryptocurrency that would outperform any other and make early users see that their investments bring in “five or ten times” a return, according to a criminal complaint.

But the story As shown in the court documents, it’s not one of the exaggerated promises that its founders were unable to keep—like the case of Elizabeth Holmes and Tyrannos. Instead, OneCoin was supposed to be a Ponzi scheme from the start, investigators claim.

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Although it was supposed to be a form of crypto, OneCoin didn’t actually have a payment system or blockchain model, The critical technology that supports cryptocurrencies Thus making OneCoin tokens essentially worthless. Ignatova and the company’s founders are accused of knowing too much. (in the current situation BBC In 2019, OneCoin denied any wrongdoing.)

According to internal emails obtained by investigators, the goal of OneCoin was to create a “trivial currency” that would combine the frenzy surrounding cryptocurrencies with multi-level marketing.

OneCoin has relied on its users to bring in more participants by offering a slew of bonuses, commissions, and “trading packages” at various price points, according to federal investigators. In the end, the network of investors extended to more than a hundred countries. Attorney General Williams said Thursday that he believes more than 3 million people have been scammed.

Williams said Ignatova “appealed to people’s humanity, promising that OneCoin would change the lives of unbanked people.” “And she set the timing of her scheme, taking full advantage of the frantic speculation of the early days of crypto.”

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The plan, however, was to “take the money and run and blame someone else for this,” Ignatova wrote to one of the founders in 2014, according to court documents.

Cracks around OneCoin started appearing around 2016, Insider mentioned, when Sweden, Latvia, Norway, Croatia, Italy and Bulgaria – where OneCoin is headquartered – began adding OneCoin to lists warning of scams. Soon the lawsuits started pouring in.

Williams said Ignatova began to fear law enforcement would catch up and even wiretap her American boyfriend’s apartment after she became suspicious of him. He added that the recordings eventually alerted her that he was cooperating with the FBI and she expedited her plan to get away.

“I immediately boarded a flight from Bulgaria to Greece with a security guard. Not a single piece of baggage. The security guard came back, but Ignatova didn’t. Never seen or heard of it,” Williams said.

Despite her disappearance in October 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Ignatova that month and issued an arrest warrant for her. She is charged with conspiracy to commit Internet fraud, electronic fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. The first four counts are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the last are punishable by up to five years in prison.

Cryptocurrency scams are on the rise, draining more than $1 billion in the last year

OneCoin’s fate eventually came to mirror the fate of its founder. Left to Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin Ignatov, the company faltered after he was arrested by the FBI in 2019. He pleaded guilty to a slew of felonies and entered into a plea bargain to cooperate with authorities – suggesting he might enter the witness protection program and presumably A new identity, according to court documents.

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

At a 2016 event in London, she said, “I have been called out a lot of things and perhaps the best thing the press has called me is… the ‘Bitcoin Killer’.”

Now, she can add “Fugitive Most Wanted” to the list.

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