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OneCoin fraud case: where did the “crypto queen” flee to?


With OneCoin, Ruja Ignatova promised investors quick wealth. In 2017 she disappeared. A new book meticulously traces the fraud and provides theses on the whereabouts of the Germans.

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Wanted »crypto queen« Ruja Ignatova (picture from 2015)

Photo: OneCoin Official /

She appeared out of nowhere and in just three years built a money machine that brought in billions: Ruja Ignatova's story could have remained that of a successful migrant biography.

At the age of ten, she came with her parents and her brother Konstantin, who was six years younger, from her native Bulgaria to the small Black Forest town of Schramberg, where she soon attracted attention: her good performance at school, her penchant for expensive designer fashion and high heels and a certain arrogance.

She moved to Konstanz to study law, where she received her doctorate and met her future husband.

Later she was hired by the Bulgarian branch of the management consultancy McKinsey.

But Ruja Ignatova always wanted more, much more, as the British journalist and author Jamie Bartlett describes it in his book »The missing Cryptoqueen«, which will be published this week and tells the wild story of the digital currency OneCoin, which she invented and marketed worldwide .

Bartlett and producer Georgia Catt had already worked through the almost unbelievable crypto thriller in their BBC podcast of the same name, which was downloaded and listened to millions of times.

Catt had become aware of the issue in the same way as many later victims: At a private dinner with friends, a guest had raved about the allegedly incredible potential for money.

She was first curious, then suspicious.

The producer turned to Bartlett, who has published extensively on digital topics and had already made a name for himself with various books on the subject.

With his new work he builds on the joint podcast and delivers a more detailed and updated presentation of the saga,

OneCoin became something of a cult

One of the intriguing questions of the OneCoin story is how the Gaga currency ever became so desirable that more than a million people from New Zealand to Uganda wanted to be part of the "One family" and invested most of their savings.


Jamie Bartlett

The Missing Cryptoqueen

Publisher: WH Allen

Number of pages: 320

Publisher: WH Allen

Number of pages: 320

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Ruja" played a big part in that with her ad appearances, as Bartlett writes.

With her flamboyant life of luxury, she apparently lived a dream for many: parties with hundreds of guests and private gigs by pop stars like Tom Jones were just as much a part of it as a luxury yacht and a penthouse with a pool in London, along with various other properties.

At the peak of her career, she appeared on stage at the Wembley Arena in London for »This girl is on fire«, her fans celebrated her like a pop star, there were fireworks fountains.

In addition to a number of bodyguards, she was already employing her own make-up artists, and by mid-2015 at the latest she had also started various cosmetic procedures, the book says.

Apparently, OneCoin developed into a kind of sect for many investors, with the native Bulgarian,

who in the meantime had obtained German citizenship, as her guru, who promised a better, happier life.

Her bona fide followers greeted her with a hand sign of their own, in which the index finger and thumb formed the letter O.

Ignatova and her partners did not sell the digital currency themselves, but only alleged training materials, some of which they simply copied from other sources.

Starter packages cost around a hundred euros, the most expensive up to 118,000 euros.

They had catchy names like “Executive Trader” and contained tokens that would later be converted into OneCoins.

According to Bartlett, the word “later” was central to OneCoin anyway, and consolation was part of the business model.

A so-called coin offering was announced again and again, promised again and again that OneCoins would one day also be traded on large crypto exchanges.

Those who not only bought training packages, but also recruited new buyers themselves, received direct and indirect commission payments.

Many newcomers therefore persuaded friends

In addition to the sales concept, it was above all the idea of ​​a new digital currency that made OneCoin one of the largest financial fraud scandals in history, which, according to Bartlett's damage record, is in a league with that of Wall Street fraudster Bernie Madoff.

Time and time again, Ruja and her OneCoiners told the stories of early bitcoin investors who got incredibly rich with minimal stakes in promotional events.

Ruja's central promise was that anyone who missed that would get a new chance with OneCoin - because OneCoin was like Bitcoin, only better, even a »Bitcoin killer«.

According to Bartlett, Ignatova relied on the "Fomo" effect, i.e. on the "fear of missing out", the fear of missing out on the next big opportunity.

Bartlett's book is the most detailed and insightful account of Ruja Ignatova's explosive rise to fame as the acclaimed "crypto queen" to date - but most importantly, of her fall.

It also shows how stressed the protagonist must have been.

And that there were clear warning signs, including earlier allegations of fraud.

At the peak of her brief OneCoin career, she was on trial in Germany.

Together with her father, she took over a casting plant in Waltenhofen in the Allgäu in 2010 and later sold it again almost overnight - but before that important production facilities had been removed.

In October 2016, the district court of Augsburg sentenced Ruja Ignatova to a suspended sentence of 14 months, among other things, for delaying bankruptcy and fraud.

At that time, the fraud machine around the OneCoin was already stuttering.

The fact that it didn't collapse with a bang was also due to the fact that many didn't look closely enough.

The makers of a blog called BehindMLM were an exception.

The founder, who calls himself "Oz", and the members of his community recognized the system as a "scam" early on and tirelessly warned against it with a flood of new contributions and their own research.

It speaks for the author Bartlett that he expressly recognizes the achievements of these citizen journalists, lets them have their say and even dedicates his book to them.

Is Ignatova cruising the Mediterranean on a yacht?

For everyone who knows the podcast and has followed the OneCoin story, the last book passages are probably the most exciting.

The question is what happened after Ruja Ignatova traveled from Sofia to Athens on a Ryanair flight in the early hours of October 25, 2017.

Bartlett can't provide definitive answers either, but what he himself calls the »best guess« after years of research, numerous informant discussions and tips.

Accordingly, the now 42-year-old would not be dead, as many suspect.

After being met by Russian-speaking people at Athens airport, she apparently stayed in Thessaloniki for a few days, where she held shares in a tobacco factory.

She then traveled back to Bulgaria undetected – where she owned real estate in Sozopol on the Black Sea coast, among other places, and where her luxury yacht “Davina” was in port.

After a search ordered by the German authorities, including at the OneCoin headquarters in Sofia, she left Bulgaria again and fled to Dubai.

She had a residence permit for the emirate and another penthouse there, and she also maintained relationships with influential families with whom she did lucrative business.

The author reports that Ruja was relatively open in Dubai and was recognized several times.

He also describes a property where she may have taken refuge.

However, Bartlett does not provide the final proof that she was actually there in the year after her disappearance.

Instead, he describes another lead that goes back to several anonymous tips.

According to this, the OneCoin inventor has not lived in a fixed place since at least 2019, but on a yacht that cruises the Mediterranean.

That would explain several "Ruja sightings" in fashionable coastal towns in neighboring countries, for example in the summer of 2019 near Saint-Tropez in southern France.

One of the most wanted people in Europe

Question marks remain even after reading it, but it's still worth it.

Bartlett provides illuminating research relevant beyond the OneCoin case.

Even in the current crypto crisis, more credulous people fall for new scams every day, from professional love scams to new OneCoin-style »exit scams«, for example in the NFT scene.

Even under the burned OneCoin name, some are trying to keep doing business.

The editorial deadline for the book was at the beginning of the year, so the author was unable to take recent developments into account.

In May, the authorities decided on a public manhunt for the »crypto queen«.

At Europol, her profile has since been among the most wanted people in Europe, the wanted posters at train stations and public places.

The BKA warns possible whistleblowers to be careful, they themselves or their companions could be armed.

The manhunt is changing things from the ground up, Bartlett told SPIEGEL, if only because it is disrupting ongoing attempts to continue to scam people with OneCoin.

It also makes it more difficult for Ignatova to move, at least within Europe.

"Sooner or later the law will catch up to them," Bartlett said.

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-06-21

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