A woman known as the “Cryptoqueen” who is accused of defrauding investors out of $4bn (£3.3bn) by selling a fake cryptocurrency has been placed on the FBI’s list of its 10 most-wanted fugitives.
The story of Ruja Ignatova became came to prominence in 2019 via the BBC’s The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast, which detailed her alleged role in a crypto scam called OneCoin. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of Bulgarian-born Ignatova, who disappeared in 2017.
The FBI added that Ignatova, a German citizen, was believed to travel with armed guards and may have had cosmetic surgery to alter her appearance.
The 42-year-old was charged in 2019 with eight offences including wire fraud and securities fraud for running the Bulgaria-based OneCoin Ltd as a pyramid scheme. Prosecutors say the company offered commissions for members to entice others to buy a worthless cryptocurrency. Investor losses were more than $4bn.
“She timed her scheme perfectly, capitalising on the frenzied speculation of the early days of cryptocurrency,” said Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan.
Williams described OneCoin as “one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history”.
Ignatova disappeared in late 2017 after bugging a flat belonging to her American boyfriend and learning he was cooperating with an FBI investigation into OneCoin, Williams said. She boarded a flight from Bulgaria to Greece and has not been seen since, he said.
Michael Driscoll, the FBI’s assistant director-in-charge in New York, declined to comment on any leads as to where Ignatova may be. The bureau adds fugitives to its most-wanted list when it believes the public may be able to assist with tracking them down.
“She left with a tremendous amount of cash,” Driscoll told reporters. “Money can buy a lot of friends, and I would imagine she’s taking advantage of that.”
Ignatova was charged alongside Mark Scott, a former corporate lawyer whom prosecutors said laundered about $400m for OneCoin. Scott was found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bank fraud after a three-week trial in Manhattan federal court.