Ruja Ignatova: What we know about the OneCoin affair
Ruja Ignatova, dubbed the "Cryptoqueen," was placed on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives last week. The FBI also put up a $100,000 (€97,292) reward for her.
Ignatova is accused of defrauding gullible investors all over the world and swindling them of billions of dollars.
"She is wanted for her alleged participation in a large-scale fraud scheme involving cryptocurrency," the agency said.
Last month, the EU's law-enforcement agency Europol also placed the 42-year-old on its Most Wanted list.
But her name no longer appears on the list and it's not clear why or when her name was removed.
Who is Ruja Ignatova?
A German citizen who lived in Bulgaria, Ignatova launched OneCoin in 2014, ostensibly aiming to replace bitcoin as the world's leading virtual currency.
It operated across the globe and claimed to have over 3 million members worldwide by the end of 2016.
But unlike bitcoin or other digital currencies, OneCoin was not backed by any public, secured and decentralized blockchain-type technology.
The Bulgaria-based OneCoin Ltd., instead, claimed to have a "private blockchain," according to the FBI.
The fake cryptocurrency had no real value and couldn't be used to buy anything.
US authorities called it one of the largest pyramid schemes in history and said Ignatova was the mastermind behind the whole scam.
According to them, it operated as a multilevel marketing network and a Ponzi scheme, where early investors are encouraged to recruit others and then paid out by receipts from later investors.
What do we know about her present whereabouts?
Ignatova disappeared in 2017 when she suspected that US investigators had launched a probe into OneCoin.
"Investigators believe Ignatova may have been tipped off that she was under investigation by US and international authorities," the FBI said. "She traveled from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece, on October 25, 2017, and has not been seen since."
In 2019, the US charged her with wire fraud, money laundering and securities fraud.
The BBC made a successful podcast, "The Missing Cryptoqueen," based on her deeds.
Who else was involved in the scam?
Most of Ignatova's alleged collaborators, including OneCoin's co-founder Sebastian Greenwood, have been arrested.
Greenwood was detained in Thailand in 2018 and then extradited to the United States, where he remains in jail awaiting trial.
Ignatova's younger brother Konstantin Ignatov was arrested in March 2019 in Los Angeles in connection to the scam. He pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges.
Mark Scott, a former corporate lawyer, was convicted in November 2019 of laundering $400 million for the group by using a network of shell companies, offshore bank accounts and investment funds.
Another man, David Pike, pleaded guilty to committing bank fraud. He was sentenced to two years probation in March.
Edited by: Uwe Hessler