She’s the architect of a $4 billion crypto scam. The creator of a fake cryptocurrency called OneCoin caused thousands of people to lose money.
Ruja Ignatova — the elusive woman known as the ‘Cryptoqueen’ — seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth since her fraud came to light. Now, a podcast called ‘The Missing Cryptoqueen’ has revealed how she funded the purchase of a luxury apartment block in Kensington, London – to the tune of £13.5 million.
The OneCoin Scam
Cryptocurrency is universal in online dealings these days. After the success of Bitcoin and top altcoins such as Ethereum, many websites began to accept them as a valid payment method. It’s now commonplace to buy flights with virtual currencies or purchase a ticket from one of the many lottery sites out there, but back in 2014 things were very different.
Bitcoin was starting to capture the public imagination, with many people seeing the potential of cryptocurrencies as the ‘future of money’. The interest was so great that it led to several ‘altcoins’, such as Litecoin, entering the public sphere – and also some fraudulent coins.
OneCoin was one of the latter. Ignatova sold it as an alternative to Bitcoin and borrowed many of its features including the so-called ability to ‘mine’ for OneCoins.
Interested people could buy a package that included ‘educational material for trading’ as well as tokens that could be exchanged for ‘mined’ OneCoins. The OneCoins could then, in theory, be exchanged for fiat currencies, like the Euro, on an internal exchange called XcoinX, then placed into a virtual wallet. XcoinX had daily selling limits, however, which meant that users could only sell a certain number of OneCoins in a day.
The outside world soon started to smell a rat. In late 2015, Bulgaria’s Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) identified OneCoin as a ‘risk’, and other countries, such as Sweden and Finland quickly followed suit. Major UK publication, The Daily Mirror, declared it as ‘worthless’ and reported how people were paying up to £28,000 for packages that OneCoin leaders said would be worth millions.
Legal authorities around the world were on the case. Officials in Hungary, Italy, Croatia, Germany and even India and Vietnam issued arrest orders against Ignatova and other OneCoin leaders.
But it was too late. The scheme had started to unfold and investors were finding out that they had lost huge amounts of money – a combined total of $4 billion according to one U.S. prosecutor. Yet the woman behind it, Ruja Ignatova, had vanished.
The cryptoqueen’s extravagant lifestyle
In the golden period before her international arrest warrant, Ignatova lived like a queen – hence the name ‘cryptoqueen’. When investigators raided her properties, they found artwork to the tune of £500,000 ($681,000), including pieces from Andy Warhol.
Ignatova had bought designer goods from Jimmy Choo and Prada. She had opened an office at the 1 Knightsbridge building in Central London and even hosted a decadent birthday party at the Victoria and Albert Museum nearby.
However, the real jewel in the crown is the property that has recently come to light – the £13.5 million apartment block in Kensington. Described as ‘the ultimate penthouse’, its 2,100 square metres of floor space came with almost every luxury you could imagine, including a swimming pool with a retractable roof. Ignatova had even bought a £1.9 million flat nearby to house her two bodyguards.
Yet, according to a BBC report, it appeared that the properties were barely touched. Ignatova didn’t visit the property once in 2017, before boarding a Ryanair flight from Sofia to Athens on 25th October and disappearing from the face of the Earth.
It appears that all these valuable possessions were just a way of spreading the incredible wealth that the ‘Cryptoqueen’ had accumulated.
Will they ever find her?
If Ignatova were like most other fraudsters, we could say that the net was closing on her.
In November 2019, her brother Konstantin pled guilty to several charges, including money laundering and fraud, in front of a US court. He signed a plea deal that meant that he wouldn’t face further charges if he complied with investigators – which might mean that he will provide valuable information about his sister.
One of the scheme’s main lawyers, US attorney Mark Scott was accused of routing $400 million out of the US and was charged with money laundering and bank fraud. He recently requested a new trial, based on a ‘false’ testimony from Konstantin Ignatov.
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Yet as of the time of writing, the ‘Cryptoqueen’ herself is still missing. Investigators initially encouraged by new leads from the above arrests have drawn a blank, leading to theories that Ruja Ignatova had paid to change her identity, possibly involving cosmetic surgery. Some darker theories say she might have taken her own life, but there’s no evidence to suggest this.
From Lord Lucan to Jim Morrison, history is full of famous missing people that were never found. The ‘Cryptoqueen’ might be about to join that list.