Ruja Ignatova, the so-called crypto queen, has now been named the FBI’s most wanted fugitive.
The FBI included Ignatova in its 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list for allegedly defrauding investors out of more than $4 billion through OneCoin, a cryptocurrency company she co-founded in 2014.
The move comes after Europol put Ignatova, 42, on its Most Wanted list earlier this year.
“It’s an important tool for us, the top 10 list,” FBI Assistant Director Michael Driscoll told reporters during a Thursday news conference. “We believe the public is best placed to help.”
Ignatova, a Bulgarian lawyer, claimed to have invented a cryptocurrency designed to compete with Bitcoin. According to the FBI, she and others allegedly provided false information when soliciting investments and promoted OneCoin through a multi-tiered marketing strategy.
OneCoin also claimed to have a private blockchain, as opposed to a public and verifiable blockchain that other virtual currencies have, and OneCoin’s value was determined by the company rather than market demand, the FBI said.
The FBI claims Ignatova eventually persuaded investors to give her billions of dollars by cashing in on the cryptocurrency hype before disappearing in 2017 after a federal arrest warrant was issued for her.
“She has a lot of money and hit the streets pretty quickly,” Driscoll said.
Investigators believe Ignatova may have been tipped off that she was under investigation by US and international authorities. On October 25, 2017, she traveled from Sofia, Bulgaria to Athens, Greece and has not been seen since, according to the FBI.
Ignatova was charged in February 2018 with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud.
Ignatova is the only woman on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list and the 11th in its 72-year history, the FBI said, which is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to her arrest. She was known to travel throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East and may have had cosmetic surgery to change her appearance, the FBI said.
Speaking at an event in London in June 2016, Ignatova told the crowd she believed OneCoin would become the “world’s #1 cryptocurrency.” In an email with her co-founder, Ignatova reportedly described an exit strategy for OneCoin as “take the money and run and blame someone else for it…” according to federal prosecutors.
Several others have been charged in connection with OneCoin, including Ignatova’s brother Konstantin Ignatov, who ran the business after she disappeared from public view. He was arrested in March 2019 on wire fraud conspiracy charges stemming from his role in the “international pyramid scheme,” federal prosecutors said. He has pleaded guilty to multiple crimes and is awaiting sentencing.
Attorney Mark Scott was convicted in 2019 for his role in laundering $400 million in fraud proceeds on behalf of OneCoin leadership and is awaiting sentencing, prosecutors said.
Karl Sebastian Greenwood, another OneCoin co-founder, is awaiting trial over fraud allegations.