In London’s Wembley Arena, there were stage lights flashing, pyrotechnics bursting and even flames going off when Ruja Ignatova, dubbed the “Cryptoqueen,” walked on stage in a long, sparkly red dress, promising her cryptocurrency, OneCoin, would take over the world and become “the bitcoin killer.” The audience at the 2016 event went wild. OneCoin’s status was surging across the globe. The company’s meteoric rise would eventually meet a swift end, reports the Washington Post. One year later, Ignatova disappeared without a trace, and authorities in Europe and the U.S. have tried to catch her ever since. The FBI on Thursday added Ignatova to Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, a notoriety normally bestowed on suspected cartel leaders, terrorists and killers. Ignatova is accused of spearheading a pyramid scheme that defrauded investors of over $4 billion, one considered to be among the largest in history.
Before her face appeared on a wanted poster, Ignatova, a German citizen with Bulgarian ties, had a “sterling résumé” showcasing a law degree from the University of Oxford and a consulting job at McKinsey & Company. How Ignatova, the only woman on the most-wanted fugitives list, came to join a docket of alleged murderers and gang leaders is a tale that dates back to 2014, when OneCoin was born. The idea pitched to investors and promoted across marketing materials was a revolutionary currency “for everyone to make payments everywhere, [to] everyone, globally,” as Ignatova said. OneCoin promised a cryptocurrency that would surpass any other and make early users see their investments yield a “fivefold or tenfold” return, according to a criminal complaint. As outlined in court documents, the story isn’t one of overhyped promises that its founders couldn’t deliver upon. OneCoin was meant to be a Ponzi scheme from the get-go, investigators allege.