- Her former partner Karl Sebastian Greenwood was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the global cryptocurrency scheme.
- Having come from humble beginnings, Bartlett writes: “She desperately wanted to be rich.”
Her entrance at London’s Wembley Arena was iconic. She stepped on the stage donning a flowing maroon gown with black sparkles as Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” played in the background.
The crowd cheered unaware of what lay ahead. That was in June 2016. Ruja Ignatova, 42, the face behind OneCoin Ltd, launched in 2014, was touting the cryptocurrency that was Bitcoin’s rival.
By then cryptocurrency was an emerging buzzword and investors were scrambling to cash in, with Ruja swaying investors to go all out and bring in the money.
Ignatova branded herself as the Cryptoqueen as she drummed up support for OneCoin through the numerous webinars she hosted. At Wembley, she allegedly promised investors up to tenfold return on their investments.
But 16 months later, she boarded a plane and vanished.
FBI's Most Wanted List
She ended up on the FBI's most wanted list following her participation in what the FBI has termed as a large-scale fraud scheme.
A reward of up to $250,000 (Sh38.3 million) has been placed on her head as she remains the only woman on the FBI's most wanted list.
OneCoin, a Ponzi scheme that never launched a blockchain, ran from 2014 to roughly 2017, and allegedly fleeced victims of around $4 billion.
“Ignatova is wanted for her alleged participation in a large-scale fraud scheme. Beginning in approximately 2014, Ignatova and others are alleged to have defrauded billions of dollars from investors worldwide,” FBI says.
According to the FBI, being the founder of OneCoin Ltd, a Bulgaria-based company that marketed a purported cryptocurrency, Ignatova allegedly made false statements and representations to individuals in order to solicit investments in OneCoin.
“She allegedly instructed victims to transmit investment funds to OneCoin accounts in order to purchase OneCoin packages, causing victims to send wire transfers representing these investments. Throughout the scheme, OneCoin is believed to have defrauded victims out of more than $4 billion,” FBI says.
She served as OneCoin's top leader from 2014 to October 2017 when she travelled from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece, and has never been found.
FBI suspects that she may have traveled on a German passport to the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Germany, Russia, Greece and/or Eastern Europe.
She was charged in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York on October 12, 2017and a federal warrant was issued for her arrest.
In February 2018, a superseding indictment was issued charging Ignatova with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud.
Her former partner Karl Sebastian Greenwood was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the global cryptocurrency scheme.
In a new book by British investigative reporter Jamie Bartlett: “The Missing Crypto Queen: The Billion Dollar Cryptocurrency Con and the Woman Who Got Way With It,” he highlights Ignatova’s early life.
Having come from humble beginnings, Bartlett writes: “She desperately wanted to be rich.”
“In school, she was top of every class, brilliant in every subject. One teacher in Schramberg said she was the smartest student he’d ever taught.”
She ended up winning a prestigious scholarship to Konstanz University at the age of 18 years and she earned a doctorate in law in 2005. She then got a master's degree in comparative European law from Oxford.
“It was always the same story: she stood out as painfully clever yet aloof. Always distant, always top,” Bartlett writes.
In 2008, she joined the McKinsey consulting office in Sofia. But after the financial crisis in 2009, the office closed and she was rendered jobless.
According to Bartlett, she briefly worked for Bulgaria’s biggest investment firm, though she clearly wanted more.
“Although she now had a few business interests of her own, they weren’t making change-your-life money. Around this time, Ruja started researching Bitcoin.”
This was early in 2013. Bitcoin was gaining momentum.
Ruja was convinced she could “create her own less anarchic version,” and that’s when OneCoin was born.