Exactly 5 years ago, the Bulgarian Ruzha Ignatova disappeared without a trace. Meanwhile, she is among the most wanted persons in the world. Where is Ignatova and who helped her to hide?
On October 25, 2017, a Ryanair plane took off from Sofia Airport for the Greek capital, Athens. On board is the Bulgarian Ruzha Ignatova, who, according to the “Times”, is at the heart of “one of the biggest frauds in history”.
Five years later, Ignatova’s whereabouts remain unknown. According to one of the versions, she is long dead, according to another, she lives in Dubai. German journalist and documentarian Johann von Mirbach set out on the trail of the “crypto queen”.
His film “Cryptoqueen – The OneCoin Scam” premiered this Saturday in Cologne, Deutsche Welle reports.
“We have exclusive recordings of conversations with her lover,” says Mirbach. “I spoke to her best friend – Asdis Rahn. We spoke to Dunkin Arthur, who works for her in London, as well as Frank Schneider, the former head of the Luxembourg secret service, who supplied her with information,” he added.
She always wanted to be different
“I also come from the Black Forest. I grew up 10 kilometers from it,” answers Mirbach when asked what drew his attention to Ignatova. In the early 1990s, her family moved from Bulgaria to the German town of Schramberg. “The 1990s was the time of grunge,” Mirbach says. But Ruza does not like torn jeans and disheveled hair. Instead, she goes to school in dresses and lipstick.
“She always behaved differently and wanted to be different. She is very intelligent. She arrived in Germany at the age of 10, learned the language, passed the matriculation exam with excellent grades and successfully continued her education,” says the journalist.
Ignatova studied in Germany and Great Britain, graduated in law, and subsequently worked at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Her personality and biography are one of the reasons for OneCoin’s rapid success, Mirbach believes.
Ignatova’s connections in Bulgaria
Ruza Ignatova also maintains good contacts in Bulgaria, where OneCoin is headquartered. “They have an office in Sofia. But they do not advertise OneCoin in Bulgaria. The Bulgarians who are victims are very few – mainly people who have invested abroad. No one has complained, and it has not caused any media interest,” explains Mirbach .
She was warned
Ignatova’s contacts in Bulgaria are probably the basis of her successful escape from the country in 2017. “Before escaping from Bulgaria, Ruza was warned,” Mirbach is convinced. A few days ago, the BBC confirmed that it had data from Europol which showed that Ignatova had been informed that she would be arrested.
Frank Schneider, former head of Luxembourg’s secret service, once worked with Ignatova. He said to the British media: “When the Bulgarians participated in certain meetings of Europol, she only needed hours to get the full information and the minutes of what was said in those meetings (…) I can only conclude that this it came from the circles she was in – and the connections she had through various influential people”.
Where is Ruza Ignatova now?
Five years later, a number of institutions and journalists continue to try to find Ruzha Ignatova. Where is she? “If I had known, I would have won the Pulitzer,” says Johann von Mirbach with a laugh. But according to him, two of the versions sound the most credible.
“Many people think she is dead. Because some people fear that she knows too much. Ruza has so many contacts in Bulgaria that if she is questioned by the FBI, she can say a lot,” says Mirbach. Frank Schneider, the former head of the Luxembourg services who advised Ruzha Ignatova, told the BBC again about the last communication between them. According to Schneider, Ignatova called him from Athens and told him that she would fly to Thessaloniki, and from there she would return to Bulgaria. The end of communication between the two, he claims, was a message from Ruzha Ignatova that she had returned home and that everything was fine. The message is in English, although Schneider and Ignatova have always spoken to each other in German.
This hypothesis (that Ruzha Ignatova is dead – b.a.) is considered very seriously, but the fact that in the summer of 2022 the FBI added her to the list of most wanted persons means that, according to the American services, she is alive.
“Some people say that from Athens she returned back to Bulgaria, from where she went to Dubai,” explains Mirbach. “There is no evidence, only isolated clues.” Over the years, Ignatova has invested millions in real estate in the United Arab Emirates.
The scheme still works today
And while it’s unclear where the “crypto queen” is or if she’s even alive, the scheme she created continues to function.
“The most shocking thing is that this fraud has been going on for so long,” says Johann von Mirbach. “Including today, though on a smaller scale. Just recently they had a big conference in Quito.”
And while many, including Ruzha’s brother Konstantin, have since been brought to justice, a large number of those involved in the fraud are still at large. “It is so difficult for the authorities to investigate and convict the people associated with OneCoin. Especially the sellers, as it has to be proven that they knew it was a scam,” Mirbach explained, adding: “These are multi-millionaires who go on every night to pay tens of thousands for champagne with the victims’ money.”
In short: using the enthusiasm around Bitcoin, her education and intelligence, her contacts, Ruzha Ignatova managed to steal billions and weave a scheme that will go down in history. But how? Johann von Mirbach summed it up like this: “People would rather believe a beautiful lie than the ugly truth.”
Whether the “crypto queen” paid for this lie with her life – we may never know.