Jul 1, 2022 - Economy

"Cryptoqueen" added to FBI's most-wanted list

Ruja Ignatova promotes OneCoin at London event.

Ruja Ignatova promotes OneCoin at a London event. Photo: Department of Justice

The FBI has offered a $100,000 reward in its search for Ruja Ignatova, the so-called "Cryptoqueen" who allegedly helped defraud investors out of $4 billion with a cryptocurrency scam.

Driving the news: Ignatova was added to the FBI's list of the 10 most-wanted fugitives this week. The FBI is asking for any information about the alleged fraudster, who disappeared in 2017.

  • Ignatova is believed to travel with armed guards and may have had plastic surgery to alter her appearance, per the FBI.
  • She was charged in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, in October 2017. A federal warrant has been issued for her arrest, the FBI said.

The big picture: Ignatova, the founder of the Bulgaria-based OneCoin, once promised that her cryptocurrency coin would become "the bitcoin killer," per the Washington Post. The coin's status surged in the United States before it met a dark end.

Backstory: The alleged large-scale scheme began in 2014 when Ignatova and others with OneCoin promised that the cryptocurrency would surpass all others and help investors increase their investments five- or ten-fold, Washington Post reports.

  • Ignatova told victims to send funds to OneCoin accounts in order to buy OneCoin packages and earn rewards, which led victims to send wire transfers of the investments, the FBI said.
  • OneCoin allegedly offered a commission for members to encourage others to buy some of the worthless cryptocurrency, CNN reports.

But then: Questions about the cryptocurrency began in 2016, when multiple European nations warned OneCoin may have been involved in fraudulent operations, Insider reports.

  • Soon after, Ignatova fled Bulgaria when she discovered her boyfriend was working with law enforcement.

By the numbers: In all, investors came from more than 100 countries, with more than 3 million people fooled in the scam, said Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, on Friday, the Washington Post reports.

What they're saying: “She timed her scheme perfectly, capitalizing on the frenzied speculation of the early days of cryptocurrency,” Williams said, per The Guardian.

  • Investigators allege that OneCoin was designed as a Ponzi scheme from the beginning, per the Post.
  • The point of the scheme was to create a "trashy coin" that grew based on interest in cryptocurrency and multilevel marketing, the Post reports.
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