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‘Cryptoqueen’ added to FBI’s most-wanted list after alleged $5.8b fraud

Ruja Ignatova, the woman also known as “Cryptoqueen”, is being added to the FBI’s list of Ten Most Wanted fugitives for allegedly swindling millions of investors to send her at least $US4 billion ($5.8 billion) in the OneCoin cryptocurrency company she founded.

US authorities on Thursday said Ignatova was the mastermind behind OneCoin, which they called one of the largest pyramid schemes in history. While Ignatova claimed OneCoin was backed by a blockchain, it was nonexistent, said Michael Driscoll, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office.

Known at OneCoin’s peak as the “cryptoqueen”, co-founder Ruja Ignatova disappeared in 2017 as OneCoin came under suspicion.Credit:OneCoin/YouTube

“Ignatova had a sterling resume, she reportedly studied law at Oxford and worked at McKinsey, but she now sits side by side on the top 10 list of cartel leaders, kidnappers and murderers,” Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York said at a news conference on Thursday.

The US unsealed an indictment against her in 2019, charging her with wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and securities fraud. The FBI is offering a $US100,000 reward for information leading to her arrest. Her exploits became the subject of a successful BBC podcast “The Missing Cryptoqueen.”

No real value

OneCoin generated €3.4 billion ($5.2 billion) in revenue from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2016, but had no real value and couldn’t be used to buy anything, according to prosecutors. It operated as a multilevel marketing network that paid commissions to its more than 3 million members worldwide for recruiting others to buy OneCoin packages, prosecutors said.

A German citizen who lived in Bulgaria, Ignatova created OneCoin in 2014 and led the organisation, according to Driscoll. It operated around the world, including in the US, and at one point claimed to have at least three million investors.

“Ignatova had a sterling resume, she reportedly studied law at Oxford and worked at McKinsey, but she now sits side by side on the top 10 list of cartel leaders, kidnappers and murderers.”

Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Ignatova filled auditoriums across the globe urging investors to join “the financial revolution” and promising them that OneCoin “would transform the life of the unbanked people,” Williams said. Instead she was “just capitalising on the frenzied speculation in the early days of cryptocurrency.”

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