The FBI has added a woman to its ’10 most wanted list’ accused of an elaborate crypto Ponzi scheme that has driven investors billions away.
A Bulgarian woman dubbed the “Crypto Queen” after raising billions of dollars in a fraudulent virtual currency scheme has been placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a $100,000 ($A147,000) reward for Ruja Ignatova, who disappeared in Greece in October 2017 around the time US authorities had filed a sealed indictment and warrant for her arrest.
The 42-year-old, who is also a German citizen, was behind one of the most infamous scams in the often treacherous world of cryptocurrencies.
In 2014, she launched OneCoin, ostensibly aimed at replacing Bitcoin as the world’s leading virtual money.
By tapping into a global network to sell the coin to friends and family in exchange for their own payouts, they and co-conspirators raised at least $3.4 billion ($A5 billion) and possibly more than $4 billion ($ A5.9 billion), according to court documents.
Officials said OneCoin was not backed by any secure, independent blockchain-like technology like other cryptocurrencies.
Instead, they said it was a classic Ponzi scheme, where early investors are encouraged to find others and then paid out by receipts from later investors.
“OneCoin claimed to have a private blockchain,” FBI Special Agent Ronald Shimko said in a statement.
“This is in contrast to other virtual currencies, which have a decentralized and public blockchain. In this case, investors were simply asked to trust OneCoin,” he said.
Ignatova disappeared in 2017 as international researchers began approaching her group.
“Investigators believe Ignatova may have been tipped off that she is under investigation by US and international authorities,” the FBI said on Thursday.
“She traveled on October 25, 2017 from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece and has not been seen since.”
On May 11, Europol announced that it had added Ignatova to its most wanted list and offered a reward of 5,000 euros ($A7648) for information about her whereabouts.
But Thursday she was no longer on the list. It was not clear why or when she got rid of it, and authorities in Europe and the United States have shown no evidence of whether she is alive or dead.
Her brother Konstantin Ignatov was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in March 2019 and later pleaded guilty to telephony fraud in a deal with US authorities.
His sentencing has been postponed because the Justice Department said in court files that it was an ongoing collaboration in the investigation.
Another partner, Sebastian Greenwood, was detained in Thailand in 2018 and then extradited to the United States, where he is in prison awaiting trial.
Another accomplice, US attorney Mark Scott, was convicted in November 2019 of laundering $400 million ($A588 million) for the group.
Originally Published As FBI Adds Bulgarian ‘Crypto Queen’ To Most Wanted List