It’s now not exhausting to attract similarities between Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos infamy and Ruja Ignatova — the bright Bulgarian-German rip-off grasp at the back of the OneCoin swindle, historical past’s 2d greatest fraud after Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi con.
Each had been charismatic celebrity scholars with large ambitions who used allure and excellent seems to persuade other people to throw fistfuls of cash at their sketchy start-ups. Each and every additionally connected with a male lover who helped them rip off thousands and thousands from dupes.
The only large distinction: Holmes, who was once just lately convicted of defrauding buyers, faces twenty years in prison and is reportedly flat broke, whilst the 42-year-old Ignatova stays at the lam after having vanished in 2017 with a fortune — leaving consumers to devour some $4 billion in losses and her ex-partners to stand prison time.
“The Lacking Crypto Queen: The Billion Greenback Cryptocurrency Con and the Lady Who Were given Means With It,” a brand new guide out now from British investigative reporter Jamie Bartlett, chronicles Ignatova’s adventure from a working-class circle of relatives within the Bulgarian port the city of Ruse to changing into a celebrity at McKinsey & Corporate and, as of June, being named as the most recent member of the FBI’s Ten Maximum Sought after checklist.
The ones humble beginnings fueled her quest. As Bartlett writes: “She desperately needed to be wealthy.”
Following the autumn of the Iron Curtain, the Ignatova circle of relatives moved from Bulgaria to Schramberg, Germany, in 1990, when Ruja was once 10. Her father discovered paintings in a tire store and so they lived in a small condominium above a butcher store.
“Even by way of the factors of challenging oldsters, Ruja was once outstanding,” Bartlett writes.
“At school she was once height of each and every category, sensible in each and every topic. One trainer in Schramberg stated she was once the neatest scholar he’d ever taught.”
Discovering pals proved tougher.
“Fellow scholars discovered her aloof and boastful,” in keeping with the guide, as “16-year-old Ruja strutted across the corridors in excessive heels and bright-red lipstick like she was once too excellent for where. ‘No one were given in point of fact just about her,’ one schoolmate later recalled.”
At 18, she received a prestigious scholarship to Konstanz College, thought to be the “Harvard of Germany,” incomes a doctorate in regulation in 2005. She then added a masters stage in comparative Eu regulation from Oxford.
However, Bartlett writes, “It was once all the time the similar tale: she stood out as painfully suave but aloof. All the time far-off, all the time height.”
Ruja joined the McKinsey consulting administrative center in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2008 and was once quickly repping one of the height banks on the earth. Since she spoke fluent Russian, she steadily flew to Moscow to, because the guide says, “assist the Russian banks faucet into the Eu markets.”
“She was once a type of other people it is advisable e-mail any time of day or evening and obtain a answer inside of mins,” Bartlett writes. “‘I don’t need kids,’ she used to inform co-workers in her relatively chilly and matter-of-fact manner. ‘I’m a long way too busy looking to substitute the sector for the rest like that!’”
However after the monetary disaster in 2009, the administrative center closed and Ruja was once out of a task. She in brief labored for Bulgaria’s greatest funding company, despite the fact that she obviously needed extra. At one level, the books says, she thought to be launching a line of cosmetics, including, “She was once changing into a recognizable face inside the town’s style, industry and politics scene. And but she nonetheless wasn’t wealthy.
“That very same niggling worry of unrealized possible nonetheless stalked her. Even supposing she now had a couple of industry pursuits of her personal, they weren’t making change-your-life cash. Round this time, Ruja began researching Bitcoin.”
This was once early in 2013. Bitcoin was once gaining momentum — with its value surging previous $500 — but in addition critics, who complained about it being utilized by drug sellers and cash launderers.
Ruja was once satisfied she may “create her personal much less anarchic model,” Bartlett writes.
In November of that yr, she attended a cryptocurrency seminar in Singapore, the place she snagged a speaker’s slot and pitched an concept: a crypto-based 401-k plan. The concept that “wasn’t particularly memorable and he or she wasn’t a super speaker both,” writes Bartlett. “However she obviously understood finance and banking.”
In attendance was once the person who would quickly change into her spouse, Sebastian Greenwood.
“Have you thought about multi-level advertising and marketing?” he prompt, in keeping with the guide.
In combination they hatched a plan to release OneCoin, which Ruja dubbed the “Bitcoin killer,” and “the way forward for cash.”
And he or she knew find out how to promote her product — by way of promoting herself.
At an over-the-top pitch match at London’s Wembley Area in 2016, Ignatova took the level in a ball robe as Alicia Keys’ “This Lady Is on Fireplace!” blasted from audio system. “She strode out expectantly, her lengthy black hair, the deep-red lipstick, the adorned pink robe glittering underneath the spotlights, the diamond earrings – the whole thing exhibited luck and glamour,” Bartlett writes.
A group of MLM veterans additionally hyped her new forex, and as with different such companies, satisfied consumers to rope in pals and members of the family to promote OneCoin to everybody they knew, in keeping with the guide.
Slightly than peddling the forex, Ruja bought movies and pamphlets on find out how to spend money on crypto — and gave away armfuls of OneCoin with each and every acquire. The training content material would possibly had been of pastime to a few, however the forex was once the actual prize, in particular on the sky-high costs the corporate charged for programs. The highest possibility, dubbed “Rich person Dealer,” price €5,000.
And the feverish advertising and marketing marketing campaign, feeding off greed and crypto FOMO, created a purchasing frenzy.
“Maximum OneCoin buyers … stated the similar factor: they didn’t perceive the era, however they’d heard of Bitcoin and regretted having now not invested,” Bartlett writes. “When Bitcoin went stratospheric in 2013, tales proliferated of odd other people making life-changing cash now not on account of any specific ability or specialised wisdom, however as a result of they were given in early.”
They will have to had been alarmed, he notes, by way of Ignatova’s choice to release OneCoin as an MLM outfit. Those companies — which vary from legitimate operations to predatory pyramid schemes — most often hawk attractiveness, well being or cleansing merchandise, now not monetary commodities, that are topic to federal securities legislation.
To stave off doubts, Ignatova introduced in compliance attorneys to observe the operation. She additionally touted OneCoin’s very personal totally clear blockchain — the everlasting, tamper-proof log of all gross sales that had made Bitcoin safe and its luck conceivable. This change confident OneCoin buyers that their stakes had been secure.
However virtually not anything Dr. Ruja claimed became out to be actual, consistent with the guide.
Her packets had been plagiarized, with some content material swiped wholesale, Bartlett writes. The prison group did not anything. And there was once no blockchain, which intended the cost of OneCoin was once no matter Ignatova determined it will be.
“The associated fee was once faux, the auditing corporate was once faux, the change was once faux and the training programs had been faux,” the creator writes. “The entirety was once a lie.”
As the corporate’s coffers ballooned, Ruja and her other people splurged on virtually each and every possible luxurious.
OneCoin professionals pampered themselves with ritzy properties, yachts, sports activities automobiles, dressmaker garments and jewels. They for sure may find the money for it. The corporate’s “promoters” — necessarily commission-based salespeople, lots of whom weren’t reliable workers — on the height of the chain took house just about one million Euros a month in commissions, says the guide.
“When she stayed at her glowing new Kensington penthouse on a two-week commute to London in December 2016, [Ruja] spent maximum days buying groceries — returning house each and every night time flanked by way of two exhausted-looking bodyguards sporting luggage of dressmaker attire and jewellery,” Bartlett writes.
She additionally dropped about 7 million Euros on a “superyacht,” dubbed the Davina, that includes six rooms, an underwater commentary front room, bar and therapeutic massage room.
OneCoin honcho Juha Parhiala bought a non-public hotel in Thailand and “splashed out on automobiles, significantly a yellow Ferrari 488, Bentley and Lamborghini Huracán.” However the greatest spender was once Igor Alberts, OneCoin’s height earner, who “purchased an eight-story mansion in an prosperous group at the outskirts of Amsterdam” and “crammed his lawn with fiberglass life-size animals and put in a 10-foot-high wrought-iron front gate with the slogan ‘What Desires Would possibly Come.’ When teams of promoters became as much as educate Igor would all the time give a small excursion of the indoor swimming pool, the sauna, the billiards room, the Swarovski crystals, his 200 plus shoe assortment, his pricey watches-in-boxes, his hand-painted Dolce & Gabbana luggage.”
In the meantime, Ignatova was once additionally reportedly busy dishonest on her husband.
She’d married Bjorn Strehl, a good-looking actual property attorney she met in regulation college, however allegedly had a fling with Greenwood, resources informed Bartlett, who couldn’t ascertain the rumor.
Then, in 2017 she fell for every other govt, Gilbert Armenta, a Floridian financier and married “alpha male,” writes Bartlett, who “wore his black hair gelled again within the old-school manner.” He acted as OneCoin’s bag guy, putting in industry accounts in his title to pay commissions and as soon as wiring $85 million from one among Ruja’s Dubai banks to his personal. Quickly the 2 had been privately speaking about leaving their spouses.
“She was once utterly obsessive about Gilbert,” writes Bartlett, quoting a chum. However Ruja had to know he was once totally dedicated, so she despatched a black-ops group to plant a malicious program in his house. The cord published that Gilbert had no plans to ditch his spouse, and Ruja raged at him over the revelation.
What she didn’t understand was once that Armenta was once within the crosshairs of an investigation by way of the Long island District Lawyer’s Administrative center — associated with monetary transactions from 2015, which quickly was once paired with a federal probe of OneCoin. When Armenta were given arrested on extortion fees, he ratted her out.
After FBI brokers grilled her more youthful brother, Konstantin, who labored as her non-public assistant, Ruja learned the noose was once tightening. She fled in 2017 on a flight from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece, disappearing with riches she’d stashed around the globe, and leaving her lover, brother and industry companions to stand prison prosecutions, in keeping with the guide.
Whilst OneCoin remains to be bought, the corporate collapsed amid a litany of arrests.
Greenwood, now held in Brooklyn, faces trial on cord fraud, cash laundering and securities fraud fees. Thai officers confiscated gold and different belongings from him. Armenta took a cooperation deal and pleaded responsible to a an identical set of fees — as did Konstantin, who testified in opposition to a OneCoin attorney, Mark Scott, convicted of cash laundering in New York. Federal prosecutors in Long island are in the hunt for to take hold of $400 million from Scott.
Up to now, then again, there’s been no centralized claw-back effort by way of the feds to compensate sufferers, as was once the case with the Madoff scandal.
Her value might be within the billions, Bartlett surmises, because of a 2015 deal Ignatova made with an Emirati royal, Sheikh Saud bin Faisal al Qassimi. She’d traded him get admission to to a frozen checking account with €50 million in change for 230,000 Bitcoins, which, if she saved them, can be value €9 billion lately.
“Sufficient to make Ruja one of the vital richest criminals on the earth,” he writes.
If Ruja does have Bitcoin, she may well be in a position get admission to it with out being tracked because of the anonymity of the forex’s transactions. She additionally effectively stashed budget world wide, together with in Russia and Dubai, in keeping with the guide.
In 2019, the Long island US Lawyer’s administrative center charged Ruja in absentia with cord fraud, securities fraud and cash laundering. She was once added to the FBI’s Ten Maximum Sought after Fugitives checklist in June, and the bureau is providing a $100,000 praise for info resulting in her arrest.
If ever stuck and dropped at trial, Ruja may face 90 years in jail.
Bartlett reviews rumors that Ruja underwent in depth cosmetic surgery and is the usage of an alias, and he tracked her from Greece to Dubai to France to a yacht cruising across the Mediterranean. It wasn’t her personal vessel, which was once docked in Bulgaria. However along with her wealth and pretend passports, she may duck the regulation for years.
For now, along with her sufferers coping with destroy and heartbreak, writes Bartlett, “the Crypto Queen is floating someplace at the excessive seas with a brand new title, a brand new face, and get admission to to unending quantities of this odd new type of cash.”