Who Is Ruja Ignatova?
Ruja Ignatova is quite an extraordinary but also profoundly upsetting person. She is a Bulgarian-German with degrees from Oxford University and the University of Constance (Germany), speaks multiple languages, appeared in many prestigious business magazines, and spoke at a conference organized by The Economist.
She is called the Crypto Queen because, at a time, she not only referred to herself as that but also portrayed a queenly image by dressing beautifully in eloquent dresses and expensive jewelry; in fact, in Jamie Bartlett’s “The Missing Cryptoqueen” podcast about Ruja, people who interacted with her and her organization claimed that she always “looked like a queen.” But this queenly image is only one side of Ruja Ignatova.
The other side is a criminal mastermind now on both the Europol and FBI’s Most Wanted List, who allegedly pulled off one of the largest frauds in history – the OneCoin cryptocurrency scam.
OneCoin: The Scam Of The Century
OneCoin is a cryptocurrency company founded by Ruja Ignatova and Karl Sebastian Greenwood, with offices reported worldwide – Hong Kong, Dubai, and Sofia (the headquarters). The coin is appropriately named OneCoin.
The company employed a sophisticated and highly effective multilevel marketing strategy (MLM), often associated with pyramid schemes, that garnered many members from across the globe and billions of dollars in investments. It is believed that total assets exceed $15 billion, making OneCoin one of the largest and most successful frauds in modern history.
What makes OneCoin a unique story is a culture surrounding the company, which can arguably be considered cult-like. The company had its distinctive hand signs. Its OneLife Network allowed members to establish strong emotional connections, all the way to the point where Ruja can be heard at public appearances describing the group as “OneFamily.” Outsiders were labeled as “haters” and considered untrustworthy. And many of the people that Jamie Bartlett interviewed throughout his BBC podcast on Ruja are often heard saying that they “believed” in OneCoin and the meaning that it stood for; they believed in it so dearly that they were willing to sell their homes and lands to invest in OneCoin.
Furthermore, OneCoin offered more than family and emotional connection and a purpose. And Ruja, aware of that fact, took full advantage of the situation. She carefully cultivated a story about how OneCoin was an opportunity for the unbanked to challenge the status quo by revolutionizing money, banking, and even the world. And it is essential to understand that the unbanked are either those denied or kicked out of financial services or those living in developing countries where financial services are either inadequate or untrustworthy. In other words, Ruja understood her audience, especially their desperateness – and exploited it.
Nevertheless, suspicious signs were appearing about OneCoin. While Bitcoin can be used to purchase everyday items, OneCoin was not. The company explained to its investors that its exchange was being built but that problems caused the project to be delayed; eventually, it created Dealshaker. OneCoin described Dealshaker as a major exchange, but this was not even close to the truth. Dealshaker is an online marketplace – like Amazon – where OneCoin holders can purchase, but it is impossible to find anything you want on the website. And even if a person did find something, Euros were still required along with OneCoins to complete purchases. Therefore, the only way to purchase OneCoins was by buying something called “packages” through salesmen through OneCoin’s multilevel marketing strategy.
There is more. What is unique about cryptocurrencies is that they are stored on blockchain technologies. Blockchain technologies, after all, are the very thing that ensures that the rules of cryptocurrencies are enforced. It turns out that OneCoin never created or used any blockchain; they were simply using a regular database that could be altered at any time. In other words, the exchange was fake, and the cryptocurrency was fake, the blockchain was fake – everything was a scam.
How Much Money Did Ruja Ignatova Steal?
The company itself reaped billions of dollars. It is believed, but not confirmed, that Ruja stole billions of dollars, perhaps around $4-5 billion dollars.
What Happened To Ruja Ignatova?
Ruja Ignatova was scheduled to attend an event in Portugal in 2017, but against her usual behavior, she did not attend and was never officially seen again. As it has turned out, all points indicate that Ruja did not attend the event because she feared that the FBI was closing in on the man with whom she was having an affair, and she feared that he would give her up to make a deal with the FBI.
And since her disappearance, Europol has offered a 5,000 Euro reward for any information that leads to an arrest. But arguments have been made that this reward is insufficient for people to risk their safety, especially when considering Ignatova’s personal resources and that she may be connected to Eastern European organized crime. On the other hand, the FBI has offered a $100,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. Nevertheless, the investigation is ongoing.
Her exact location remains unknown.