She called herself the “Cryptoqueen” and touted her alleged new digital currency, OneCoin, as the next big thing.
But after convincing investors around the world to send her $4 billion, according to federal prosecutors, Ruja Ignatova quietly boarded a flight to Greece and disappeared.
OneCoin, according to authorities, was a scam. On Thursday, the FBI placed the suspected fraudster on its 10 most wanted list, days after Europol did the same.
At a press conference on Thursday, Damian Williams, a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called her “an international fugitive who allegedly orchestrated a global fraud.”
“Now she sits side by side on the top 10 list with cartel bosses, murderers and terrorists,” Williams said. “It is not a coincidence.”
Authorities claim that OneCoin was one of the biggest pyramid schemes in modern history. Although Ignatova claimed she was backed by a blockchain, prosecutors said there was none — she made up the price. Parts were not exchanged.
When the Justice Department unveiled its indictment against Ignatova in 2019, FBI Deputy Director-in-Charge William Sweeney Jr. said, “OneCoin was a cryptocurrency that existed only in the mind. of its creators and their co-conspirators. Unlike genuine cryptocurrencies, which keep records of their investors’ transaction history, OneCoin had no real value. It offered investors no way to trace their money and could not be used to buy anything. In fact, the only ones to benefit from its existence were its founders and co-conspirators.
Ignatova, now 42, resided in Sofia, Bulgaria, before fleeing. She is charged with one count of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy to launder money, each count carrying a maximum sentence 20 years in prison.
Court records indicate that she led a lavish life while the alleged fraud continued and invested money in everything from real estate in Belgrade, Serbia, to horse racing in Abu Dhabi, to United Arab Emirates, passing through an oil field in Madagascar.
“I’m confident we’ll find her eventually,” said Mike Driscoll, FBI deputy director in charge of the New York bureau.
His brother Konstantin Ignatov, who also ran the business for a time, pleaded guilty to multiple crimes in 2019 and is free on bail pending sentencing.
Another OneCoin co-founder, Sebastian Greenwood, is in jail awaiting trial for fraud. Mark Scott, a once-prominent attorney who worked for OneCoin, has been convicted of money laundering and is awaiting sentencing.
Ignatova’s boyfriend was cooperating with authorities and when she found out she ran away, according to court testimony reported by the Wall Street Journal.