Ruja Ignatova, also known as “Cryptoqueen,” has been added to the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive list for allegedly defrauding billions of dollars from investors all over the world.
Ignatova, who ran a pyramid-scheme scam in the form of Bulgarian cryptocurrency company OneCoin Ltd., is the first crypto criminal to land the FBI’s Most Wanted List and the eleventh woman to join the list in its 72-year history. The scam is believed to have defrauded victims out of more than $4 billion.
Ignatova founded OneCoin in 2014, claiming the new virtual currency would kill off Bitcoin. In marketing the cryptocurrency, Ignatova allegedly made false statements and representations about the company, including that OneCoin had a private blockchain.
“This is in contrast to other virtual currencies, which have a decentralized and public blockchain. In this case, investors were just asked to trust OneCoin,” said FBI Special Agent Ronald Shimko, who is investigating the case out of the FBI’s New York Field Office.
The blockchain was “private” because OneCoin, in reality, did not have a blockchain at all—an essential component of cryptocurrency systems.
With this information kept under wraps, Ignatova was able to woo crowds with her stage presence and false promises made regarding the benefits of OneCoin. In 2016, Ignatova appeared on stage at England’s Wembley Arena in a ballgown and diamond earrings, telling fans that OneCoin was on the course to become the world’s biggest cryptocurrency.
Victims would wire investment funds to their OneCoin accounts to purchase crypto packages, but never saw any returns in cash. Soon, investors became suspicious and scheduled a meeting with Ignatova at a gathering of European OneCoin promoters in Lisbon, Portugal in October 2017. She never showed up.
The FBI reports that Ignatova traveled from Sofia, Bulgaria to Athens, Greece on October 25, 2017, and may have traveled somewhere else after that. About two weeks prior, the United States District Court of New York issued a federal warrant for her arrest. In February 2018, Ignatova was indicted on five counts, including Wire Fraud and Securities Fraud.
Since going on the run five years ago, Ignatova has found herself on two “Most Wanted” lists. In addition to being added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List, the ‘Cryptoqueen’ was put on Europe’s Most Wanted Fugitives List in May 2022. The FBI is offering up to $100,000 for information on her whereabouts, while Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, is offering €5,000 for information.
Journalist Jamie Bartlett, the creator of the Missing Cryptoqueen podcast, has been trying to locate Ignatova since 2019. He hopes Ignatova can be caught soon, believing it will set a good precedent to those who intend on pursuing crypto scams. He told VICE World News: “Her arrest and conviction is the one thing that might actually stop crypto scams because it would send out a powerful warning to people to be wary.”