The audience at the 2016 event went wild. In the midst of a cryptocurrency boom, OneCoin’s status was rising in the United States and around the world. But the company’s meteoric rise would eventually meet a speedy end.
Just a year later, Ignatova disappeared without a trace, and authorities in Europe and the United States have been trying to catch her ever since. The FBI on Thursday added Ignatova to its list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives – a notoriety normally bestowed on suspected cartel leaders, terrorists, and assassins. Meanwhile, Ignatova is accused of heading a pyramid scheme that investors defrauded of more than $4 billionconsidered one of the largest in history.
“Today’s announcement is a promise to redouble our efforts to capture Ignatova, seek justice for her victims and hold her accountable for her crimes,” Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference Thursday. . . .
Ruja Ignatova, pictured in the search poster above, is seen giving a speech at OneCoin’s Wembley Arena event for investors. pic.twitter.com/ggx5NazryM
– SDNY United States Attorney (DSDNYnews) June 30, 2022
Before her face appeared on a wanted poster, Ignatova, a German citizen with Bulgarian ties, had an “excellent resume” showing a law degree from Oxford University and a consulting job at McKinsey & Company, Williams said. . How Ignatova, the only woman on the most wanted fugitive list, joined a list of suspected killers and gang leaders is a story that dates back to 2014, when OneCoin was born.
The flashy idea pitched to investors and promoted through marketing materials was a revolutionary currency “so everyone can make payments everywhere, [to] everyone, globally”, as Ignatova joked at Wembley Arena. OneCoin promised a cryptocurrency that would outperform any other and make early adopters see their investments generate a “quintupled or tenfold” return, according to a criminal complaint.
But the story as described in court documents, it’s not one of those overblown promises its founders couldn’t keep, like the case of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Instead, OneCoin was intended to be a Ponzi scheme from the start, the researchers allege.
Despite supposedly being a form of crypto, OneCoin did not actually have a payment system or blockchain model. the crucial technology underpinning cryptocurrencies – which makes OneCoin tokens essentially useless. Ignatova and the company founders are accused of knowing about it. (In a sentence to the bbc in 2019, OneCoin denied wrongdoing).
According to internal emails obtained by the researchers, the goal of creating OneCoin was to create a “junk currency” that would merge the frenzy surrounding cryptocurrencies with multi-level marketing.
OneCoin relied on its users to attract more participants by offering a host of rewards, commissions and “trading packages” at different prices, according to federal investigators. In the end, the network of investors spanned more than a hundred countries. More than 3 million people are believed to have been duped, Williams, the prosecutor, said Thursday.
Ignatova “appealed to the humanity of people, promising that OneCoin would transform the lives of the unbanked,” Williams said. “And she timed the scheme of it, perfectly capitalizing on the frenzied speculation in the early days of cryptocurrency.”
However, the plan was to “take the money and run and blame someone else for this,” Ignatova wrote to a co-founder in 2014, according to court documents.
Cracks Around OneCoin Started To Show Around 2016, Insider reported, when Sweden, Latvia, Norway, Croatia, Italy and Bulgaria, where OneCoin was based, started adding OneCoin to the warning lists about fraudulent operations. The demands soon began to pour in.
Ignatova began to fear that law enforcement would catch up with her and even bugged her American boyfriend’s apartment after she became suspicious of him, Williams said. Recordings of her eventually alerted her that he was cooperating with the FBI and precipitated her escape plan, she added.
He immediately boarded a flight from Bulgaria to Greece with a security guard. Not one piece of luggage. The security guard came back, but Ignatova did not. She has not been seen or heard from since,” Williams said.
Despite her disappearance in October 2017, Ignatova was indicted by a federal grand jury that month and a warrant was issued for her arrest. She has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. The first four counts each carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, while the last carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
The fate of OneCoin eventually came to mirror that 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 series of felonies and entered into a plea deal to cooperate with authorities, suggesting he could enter the witness protection program and assume a new identity, according to court documents.
The FBI is now bidding for the public to help with the investigation and is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to Ignatova’s arrest.
At the 2016 event in London, he said “I’ve been called a lot of things and probably the best thing the press called me was… the ‘bitcoin killer.'” ”
Now, you can add “most wanted fugitive” to the list.
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