“OneCoin is easy to use. OneCoin is for everyone. Make payments anywhere, globally. That’s who we are. Global citizens of a small world who want to make a difference.”
With these words of the wanted Ruzha Ignatova, whose fake cryptocurrency dragged investors from all over the world with more than 4 billion dollars, begins episode of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation podcastdedicated to her.
Monica Grover of the FBI press office talks about how Ignatova came to the attention of the FBI to be included in the list of the 10 most wanted persons of the agency. The Bulgarian was inducted there in the middle of this year, becoming only the 11th woman whose photo has appeared on the list since it was created in the 1950s.
“Ruzha Ignatova’s company was advertised as the ‘killer of BitCoin’. However, it did not change the world, but instead robbed investors of millions of dollars,” says the presenter.
The scheme itself started in 2014, and OneCoin is based in Bulgaria. The company is advertised as a new virtual currency, but behind it lies a fraudulent scheme combining different tactics from criminal pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing, taking advantage of gullible investors.
“First, she’s targeting people who may not have fully understood the ins and outs of crypto, but are excited by her impressive resume, OneCoin’s marketing strategies, and the hype around crypto,” says Grover.
According to the FBI’s investigation, the supposed cryptocurrency OneCoin used many of the terminology of this field, but without actually betting on the technology that is used in cryptocurrencies.
In practice, OneCoin claims to be a cryptocurrency, but it goes beyond one of the main conditions for this – transactions there are not carried out using blockchain technologies that guarantee the transparent movement of money, and the company claims to carry out these processes itself.
In this way, the value of the cryptocurrency is determined (or rather should be determined if it was a real project and not a scam – p.s.) by Ignatova and her partners, not by market demand.
Ruza Ignatova at one of the large-scale OneCoin promotion events
It is this idea of a private but centralized digital currency that for many is the attractive point. However, many experts warn even then that this is a signal of possible fraud.
In this way, investors in OneCoin could not follow the development of the cryptocurrency as well as the transactions, and had to trust only Ignatova. For the entire period in which the project was active, the “crypto queen” managed to attract about 2 million people as investors, from whom a total of more than 4 billion dollars was taken, according to the FBI podcast.
The feds found that on October 25, 2017, after her scheme had already been foiled, Ignatova traveled from Sofia to Athens. She has not been seen in public since. Just ten days before, the first charge against her for participating in and leading a fraudulent scheme was brought, and the FBI issued a warrant for her arrest.
Ruzha Ignatova speaks English, German and Bulgarian, probably travels with false documents and relies on connections and acquaintances in Bulgaria, Germany, Russia, Greece and the United Arab Emirates, says the FBI agent. She is known to love leading a lavish lifestyle and strives for it at all costs.
The podcast ends with a call for any information about Ignatova to be turned over to the FBI.
A month ago, Greek authorities announced that they were on the verge of capturing the “crypto queen” after a tip-off that she was on the country’s territory. However, after the trail was followed, it became clear that Ruža eluded the police (although it is possible that she did not even set foot in Greece).
A much more interesting moment was the August 12 interview that former head of the Luxembourg intelligence agency and then corporate security expert Frank Schneider gave to the Italian publication Notizie Geopolitiche.
Schneider is also charged in the OneCoin scam, and is known to have been hired by Ruzha Ignatova to help her with security and provide her with important information if she were to be prosecuted.
According to him, the “crypto queen” told him shortly before her disappearance that it was safest for her in Bulgaria.
“Around October 20, Ruzha told me that she had to go to Bulgaria for a while, which I advised her not to do. However, she thought that it was the safest place for her, since she already knew that the prosecutor’s office of Southern New York is already interested in her, and her lover Gilbert Armenta is cooperating with the FBI against her,” commented Frank Schneider.
Shortly before, he had helped to plant listening devices in Armenta’s apartment, thus Ignatova learned that her lover was working with the authorities to gather enough evidence against her.
However, according to Schneider, the reason she wanted to follow her lover was a request made by her contacts in the Bulgarian government at the time, i.e. mid 2017.
“Ruza recorded all her conversations with Gilbert, as requested by her contacts in the Bulgarian government, who were planning to oppose the scandalous plans of the Americans,” explains the security expert.
He adds that her contacts in Sofia told her to leave Bulgaria on October 25, because there will be a police action in line with legal cooperation with Germany.
Regarding Ignatova’s disappearance itself, Schneider says that Ruzha left for Athens on an early Ryanair flight together with a security guard who had unclear “instructions” from where to bring her back to Sofia.
“We were both confused as to who would give such instructions. She also confirmed to me that the bodyguard told her to leave later that day for Thessaloniki, where other colleagues of his would pick her up,” says Schneider.
She later spoke to him on the phone twice more – once in Thessaloniki, while waiting for the new team of security guards, and once more while they were traveling by car to Bulgaria, at which time she explained that her entry into the country would not be recorded on the border. The crypto queen asked to see Schneider in Sofia in a week.
The last he saw of her was a message with the text “safe house”, which Schneider described as a strange detail, since the two communicated only in German.
While he says he doesn’t know what happened to Ruza, he thinks she’s most likely already dead. And while one hopes this is not the case, there is no evidence to the contrary.
He also categorically denies the claims of her brother Konstantin, who in 2019 was arrested by the American authorities in Las Vegas, that Schneider helped the Bulgarian to hide from the authorities.
The Luxembourg security expert also claimed that OneCoin was not intended as a fraud or money laundering scheme, but became one because of its unexpectedly huge success combined with weak governance and bad management decisions.
Schneider is currently facing three charges in the OneCoin case – corporate espionage for money laundering, providing confidential police information that led to Ignatova evading arrest, and aiding and abetting a criminal scheme by registering a company at his name in the United Arab Emirates, which served briefly as a front.