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OneCoin remains to this day one of the biggest crypto scams ever
Over the course of six years, Dr Ruja Ignatova presided over a scam that raked in some $4 billion before famously absconding and going into hiding. Around 3.5 million people are said to have been hoodwinked by Dr. Ignatova and her bold claims of a digital utopia, leaving them out of pocket and her on the run from authorities across the world, and possibly the Russian mafia.
There is now even a Ruja Ignatova FBI most wanted slot allocated to the OneCoin mistress, illustrating just how seriously her actions have been taken.
But what exactly was the OneCoin scam, how did it scam so many people, and what caused its downfall? Let’s find out.
OneCoin was founded in 2014 and promoted as a kind of digital utopia. Early supporters were fed stories of global adoption and a world in which OneCoin would be the next Bitcoin, the currency of choice for the digital age.
It was marketed in the same way as a pyramid or social marketing scheme. People attended glitzy conferences where they were shown what they could achieve if they signed up to be a OneCoin holder, or better a distributor. Being a distributor involved selling packages to others and taking a slice of the cost.
OneCoin was going to be so popular and so ubiquitous that early adopters, like Bitcoin OGs, were going to make themselves millionaires.
The problem was that it was a completely empty promise. There was no blockchain, nothing on which this whole digital nirvana could operate, and yet OneCoin became extremely popular based on the dream of financial freedom alone.
Promoters sold membership packages that supposedly contained OneCoin tokens alongside the ability to mine more, although with no actual blockchain in place the coins never arrived with buyers.
It was possible to sell the OneCoin token on the private exchange Xcoinx, but holders could only sell a limited amount, determined by the membership package they had bought. This allowed unrestricted funds to flow in and the amount of funds going out to be carefully controlled, meaning the Ponzi scheme could grow.
Us Against Them
In the same way as a cult operates, OneCoin promoters cultivated an ‘us against them’ mentality within the project.
Anyone who called OneCoin a scam or a Ponzi scheme was an agent of the authorities, who were desperate to shut down the anti-capitalist movement because it threatened their hegemony. This plan worked, and many people became brainwashed into the idea that the OneCoin scam was the only route to financial freedom.
However, by 2016 the wheels were starting to come off. That October, a blockchain technician was approached with a request to build a blockchain for OneCoin, but he refused, asking how the cryptocurrency could have been operating for two years without one.
Unlike many other millions, he smelt a rat and stayed away, although his story got out and he began to engage with OneCoin investors to explain why it was a scam.
By this point, the Xcoinx exchange had been taken offline, meaning OneCoin token holders and new buyers had no way of selling their coins. Behind the scenes, the need for this was obvious – the amount of people now sucking from the OneCoin teat was growing, with the top dogs frittering away the money coming in on their lavish lifestyles.
There was even a story of a Hong Kong hotel room filled with cash, which those in the know would take from whenever they wanted. No one was keeping track of how much money was coming in and going out – or if they were, they weren’t doing a good job of it.
The money that wasn’t being spent was being funneled into offshore bank accounts through a complex series of shell companies, ensuring that Dr. Ignatova and her accomplices had some put aside for a rainy day.
Dr. Ignatova Goes Underground
That rainy day came sooner than Dr. Ignatova probably imagined.
Early supporters were starting to realize that they were never getting their money back and that the whole thing was nothing but a huge scam, especially when the long promised exchange failed to materialize.
Some had put their concerns to the authorities in their countries, and in April 2017 Indian police apprehended a number of OneCoin promoters based on complaints from victims.
Dr. Ignatova was due to address all these concerns at a gathering of European OneCoin promoters in Lisbon, Portugal, in October 2017. However, to everyone’s surprise, including the organizers, she didn’t show. And she continued to not show for days afterwards. No one could get hold of her.
Two weeks after her Lisbon no-show, Dr. Ignatova boarded a Ryanair flight from Sofia, home of the OneCoin head office, to Athens, and then went underground. To date, this is the last time anyone has seen or heard from Dr. Ignatova.
The OneCoin Wheels Fall Off
Amazingly, despite her disappearance, the OneCoin scam rumbled on. Promoters continued to deny anything was wrong, and hit out at the various charges that began to come the way of those occupying top spots in the scam.
However, as these charges became more and more publicized and the world cottoned on to the scale of the swindle, income began to die. Having peaked at over 800 million euros during Q3 of 2016, income began to reverse massively, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tokens locked on the platform.
In 2018, the problems really began. Bulgarian police raided the OneCoin headquarters in Sofia, taking away servers and paperwork. This led in November that year to co-founder Sebastian Greenwood being arrested in Thailand and extradited to the U.S. to face charges of wire and securities fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and securities fraud.
Four months later, Dr. Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin, who also worked for OneCoin, was arrested at Los Angeles International airport awaiting a flight back to Bulgaria on similar charges.
OneCoin’s lawyer, Mark Scott, was indicted by a grand jury on wire fraud and money laundering counts around the same time, while US authorities charged Dr. Ignatova herself in absentia for wire fraud, security fraud and money laundering.
In September 2019, the BBC podcast series The Missing Cryptoqueen aired and took the world by storm, increasing the pressure on Dr. Ignatova and the OneCoin project.
Admissions of Guilt
Despite these arrests, people, amazingly, continued to invest in the OneCoin scam, albeit on a vastly reduced scale, while OneCoin’s social media pushed with the anti-authority line, saying the arrests proved their theory.
The roof finally came in when Konstantin Ignatov testified during the Mark Scott trial in November 2019 that the whole operation was a “fraud scheme” and that “the money came from a criminal activity”.
Konstantin admitted that all the money raised from package sales had one purpose – to supplement Dr. Ingantova’s lifestyle. Investors’ money was funneled into bank accounts, property, luxury cars, yachts, and more, which she used alongside Greenwood, with whom she was having a relationship.
OneCoin’s head office in Sofia was thought to have shut down in late 2019, but it is still listed as ‘open’ online, with opening hours of 9am to 6pm. The OneCoin Twitter account is still active, although its last post was in July 2018 about robot waiters.
To all intents and purposes, OneCoin is a zombie – essentially dead, but not actually in the ground.
Where is Ruja Ignatova in 2022?
The last question that remains therefore is the big one – where is Ruja Ignatova? The answer is, obviously, not an easy one to wanser.
Dr. Ignatova has organizational ties to Sofia, home of the OneCoin head office, but that would be too obvious. There are other options; OneCoin is registered in Dubai and Dr. Ignatova has strong familial ties to Frankfurt and Schramberg in Germany.
Of course, she could also have bought a private island through a third party and be living in splendid isolation. With suggestions that the OneCoin scam involved the Russian mafia and with her face now plastered round the world, however, not least through her Ruja Ignatova FBI most wanted poster, one thing is sure – Dr. Ruja Ignatova will be on the run for the rest of her life… or at least until the money runs out.
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