“Crypto Queen” Ruzha Ignatova joins FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List
Ruzha Ignatova, the businesswoman also known as "The Cryptoqueen" has been added to the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for allegedly defrauding millions of investors of more than $5.2 billion through the cryptocurrency company she founded, OneCoin.
On Thursday, U.S. authorities said Ignatova was the brains behind OneCoin, a project that has been described as one of the largest pyramid schemes in history. Although Ignatova claimed OneCoin was backed by a blockchain, it actually did not exist, said Michael Driscoll, head of the FBI’s New York office.
“Ignatova had an impeccable resume, reportedly studied law at Oxford and worked at McKinsey, but now finds herself neck to neck with the top 10 cartel leaders, kidnappers and murderers“, said Damien Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
In 2019, the U.S. released an indictment charging her with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and securities fraud. The FBI offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to her arrest. Her exploits became the subject of the successful BBC podcast “The Missing Cryptoqueen”.
No real value
According to prosecutors, OneCoin generated $5.2 billion in revenue from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2016, but had no real value and could not be used to purchase anything. It operated as a multi-level marketing (MLM) network that paid commissions to its more than 3 million members worldwide for recruiting others to buy OneCoin packages, prosecutors allege.
“Ignatova created OneCoin in 2014 and ran the organization, according to Driscoll. She operated worldwide, including in the U.S., and at one point claimed to have at least three million investors“, as stated by Damien Williams.
Ignatova packed audiences around the world, urging investors to join the “financial revolution” and promising them that OneCoin “will change the lives of the unbanked”. Instead, it “has simply capitalized on the frenzied speculation in the early days of cryptocurrency.”
After becoming suspicious that the U.S. was watching her, Ignatova boarded a flight to Greece and then disappeared, Driscoll said that she had ties to Russia, Greece and had allegedly traveled to other Eastern European countries and the United Arab Emirates.
Ruzha’s brother arrested
Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin Ignatov, was arrested in March 2019 in Los Angeles. He later pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges and testified for prosecutors against Mark S. Scott, a lawyer who pleaded guilty to helping launder nearly $400 million from OneCoin. Scott is challenging the conviction, saying there is evidence that Konstantin Ignatov lied in his testimony.
Another man, David Pike, pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit bank fraud for helping Scott launder money. In March, he was sentenced to two years probation.
Last month, Europol put Ruzha on its most-wanted list and offered a €5,000 reward for information leading to her capture.