Bulgarian Ruja Ignatova, also known as the “missing cryptoraine”, is on the list of the ten most wanted criminals of the FBI, the US Federal Police.
The criminal, believed to be in his 40s, is wanted for her alleged role in a cryptocurrency scam known as OneCoin.
Authorities accuse the fugitive of using the scheme to defraud victims of more than $4 billion.
Ignatova has been missing since 2017, when US authorities issued a warrant for her arrest.
In 2014, the creators of the OneCoin cryptocurrency started offering a commission to buyers of the currency who could sell it to more people.
But FBI agents say OneCoin had no value and never used blockchain technology like other cryptocurrencies.
Federal prosecutors allege that OneCoin was a pyramid scheme disguised as a cryptocurrency.
“She implemented her plan at the right time, leveraging the frenetic speculation of the early days of cryptocurrencies,” said Damian Williams, Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor.
The FBI puts the fugitives on its most wanted list if it thinks the public can help find them.
An FBI announcement released on Thursday (June 30) offers a $100,000 reward (more than half a million reais) for information leading to Ignatova’s arrest. She was charged in 2019 with eight crimes, including wire fraud and stock fraud.
She is the only woman on the FBI’s ten most wanted list.
BBC journalist Jamie Bartlett, who has created a podcast about the story of Ignatova and OneCoin, believes Thursday’s announcement by the FBI increases the chances of her being arrested.
“This is probably the biggest news in this case since Ruja disappeared in October 2017,” he says.
According to Mr Bartlett, who has been investigating the case for years, one of the reasons it is so difficult to trace Ruja Ignatova is that she managed to disappear with at least $500 million (more than CFAF 314 billion).
“We also believe that she has high-quality false identity documents and that she has changed her appearance,” he added.
Bartlett does not rule out the possibility that she is no longer alive.
Ignatova was last seen on a flight from Bulgaria to Greece in 2017. She has been missing ever since.
A victim of OneCoin, Scottish Jen McAdam, told the BBC in 2019 that she, her friends and family had lost more than €250,000 (163,989,250 FCFA). She says it all started with a message from a friend who told her about an investment opportunity not to be missed.
Jen McAdam clicked on a link and watched an online lecture about OneCoin. For an hour, she listened intently to people talking excitedly about this fascinating new cryptocurrency and how it could generate a fortune.
McAdam said it took him months to realize it was all a hoax.
Who is Ruja Ignatova?
According to a portrait compiled by journalist Jamie Barlette, it was in June 2016 that 36-year-old entrepreneur Ruja Ignatova took the stage at London’s famous Wembley Stadium to show thousands of cheering fans the rise of cryptocurrencies.
As usual, he said, she wore expensive prom dresses, diamond earrings and red lipstick.
She announces to the crowd that OneCoin was on track to become the largest cryptocurrency in the world, allowing “anyone to make payments anywhere”.
OneCoin, Ruja tells the crowd at Wembley, is the “bitcoin killer”. “In two years, no one will talk about bitcoins anymore,” she shouts to the audience.
Ruja Ignatova has called herself a “crypto queen” and the creator of a cryptocurrency that rivals bitcoin. Until she just disappeared in 2017.
Before that, she convinced people all over the world to invest their savings in OneCoin in the hope of high returns.
Secret documents consulted by the BBC show that the British spent nearly £30 million (22,830,481,000 FCFA) on OneCoin in the first six months of 2016.
There is also data on investments from countries like Pakistan, Norway, Canada, Yemen and also Brazil.