WASHINGTON — The FBI on Thursday added Dr. Ruja Ignatova, the self-proclaimed ‘Cryptoqueen,’ to its list of Ten Most Wanted fugitives, and is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to her arrest.
Ignatova, the founder of a cryptocurrency called OneCoin that was launched in 2014, allegedly defrauded investors of more than $4 billion over three years, before disappearing. Europol added her to Europe’s most wanted list last month.
Investigators say the Bulgarian-based project had no blockchain securing transactions and coins were essentially minted out of thin air. Bitcoin, by contrast, is secured by a global network of miners who maintain a public ledger, or blockchain.
The Southern District of New York held a press conference on Thursday morning to announce the addition of Ignatova to its top fugitives list.
Mike Driscoll, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the New York office said that he was “confident” they would find her eventually. and Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called Ignatova “an international fugitive who allegedly masterminded a worldwide fraud.”
Williams also noted that Ignatova now “sits side by side on the Top Ten list with cartel leaders, murderers, and terrorists.”
Ignatova has been in the criminal justice system for at least a half-decade. She was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2017, and the Southern District of New York subsequently issued an arrest warrant.
In February 2018, a superseding indictment was issued, charging Ignatova with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud. Each count carries a sentence of up to 20 years.
As for Ignatova’s whereabouts, the FBI noted in a press release that the OneCoin founder traveled from Bulgaria to Greece on Oct. 25, 2017, though she could have continued on from there.
“She may travel on a German passport to the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Germany, Russia, Greece and/or Eastern Europe,” the FBI said.
Ignatov’s brother, Konstantin, who also served in a leadership role with OneCoin, was arrested in 2019 and subsequently pleaded guilty to multiple felonies that same year.
Investigators describe the large-scale fraud as similar to an international pyramid scheme. Ignatova allegedly made false statements to solicit investments. Victims would then send cash to OneCoin accounts in order to buy the coin.
In 2019, the FBI’s then Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney Jr. said OneCoin “offered investors no method of tracing their money, and it could not be used to purchase anything. In fact, the only ones who stood to benefit from its existence were its founders and co-conspirators.”
At the height of OneCoin’s popularity in 2016, Ignatova took the stage at England’s Wembley Arena in a ballgown to tout a coin that she said would eclipse bitcoin. Igantova was also known for throwing lavish parties in cities around the world.
The FBI asks that anyone with information about her whereabouts contact the bureau at tips.fbi.gov.