A fugitive “cryptoqueen” who was placed on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list continues to evade arrest, as her business partner was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Ruja Ignatova, 43, and Karl Sebastian Greenwood, 46, defrauded 3.5 million customers out of more than $4bn after co-founding the bogus cryptocurrency OneCoin in 2014, US prosecutors say.
Ms Ignatova vanished after boarding a flight in Bulgaria in 2017 and remains at large, leaving her former associates to take the blame for what the Department of Justice described as “one of the largest fraud schemes ever perpetrated”.
Last week, Greenwood was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $300m in forfeiture in a New York federal court.
“Greenwood and his co-conspirators, including fugitive Ruja Ignatova, conned unsuspecting victims out of billions of dollars with promises of a ‘financial revolution’ and claims that OneCoin would be the ‘Bitcoin killer,’” Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement after the sentencing.
“In fact, OneCoins were entirely worthless, and investors were left with nothing, while Greenwood lined his own pockets with over $300 million.”
Greenwood, a Swedish-United Kingdom citizen, was arrested in Thailand in 2018 and extradited to the United States on fraud charges.
He pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in December.
Ms Ignatova was charged with defrauding OneCoin investors on 12 October 2017. On 25 October, she boarded a commercial flight from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece, and has not been seen since.
She was added to the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list in June 2022, the sole female on the infamous fugitive lineup.
Authorities believe she may have had plastic surgery and travels with armed guards.
An FBI wanted poster notes that the Bulgaria-born outlaw is thought to be using a German passport, and may have travelled to the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Russia, and Eastern Europe.
According to prosecutors, the duo used a multilevel marketing Ponzi scheme to draw in investors who then recruited others to sell their worthless cryptocurrency to others at webinars and conferences in the United States and Europe.
The coin was in fact never mined by computers and had no verifiable blockchain record.
The partners privately referred to OneCoin as “trashy” and referred to investors as “idiots” in emails, according to prosecutors.
Flush with cash, the pair reportedly purchased homes in Spain, Dubai and Thailand and travelled the globe by private jet.
Ms Ignatova told Greenwood they should “take the money and run and blame somebody else for this” if the company failed, according to prosecutors.
Anyone with information about Ms Ignatova’s whereabouts is asked to contact the nearest US Consulate or the FBI.