Jamie Bartlett – a journalist who has been chronicling one of the most shocking financial scandals in history – explains to Crypto AM’s magazine how far the search for Ruja Ignatova has taken him, and whether or not he thinks the ‘Cryptoqueen’ will ever face justice…
They say the wheels of justice move slowly. For investors in the multi-billion dollar OneCoin crypto scam, it felt like they’d seized up completely.
But last month there was action at last. The German police, who’ve been quietly investigating OneCoin for several years, published a wanted notice for OneCoin boss Dr Ruja Ignatova, who they suspect of fraud.
‘Caution!’ Reads the notice. ‘Ignatova or possible persons accompanying her might be armed’.
Within moments the Bulgarian-German financial wunderkind appeared on Europol’s Most Wanted List, alongside Wirecard’s Jan Marsalek and the Italian mobster Matteo Messina Denaro.
Does this flurry of activity mean the self-styled Cryptoqueen won’t be missing for much longer? I wouldn’t count on it.
For one thing, there has been a US indictment for Ruja on money laundering and fraud charges since the moment she vanished – but so far it’s gone unheeded. Interpol doesn’t have the best reputation. Some domestic law enforcement agencies think it has a problem with insider leaks, while critics argue it’s used by oppressive regimes to crack down on dissidents.
And Europol’s offer of €5,000 for useful information, while welcome, is shrapnel compared to the hundreds of millions that disappeared with Ruja, and which presumably funds her fugitive lifestyle.
But who knows? The German authorities have said they are hoping so-called ‘super-recognisers’ – people with unusually good recollection for faces – might help them. And wanted posters have started popping up all over Germany. According to one report the police there have already received over 30 tips ‘of varying quality’.
I know a thing or two about tracking down this elusive figure. I’ve spent the last three years looking for Dr Ruja. My book The Missing Cryptoqueen, based loosely on the podcast of the same name, is out this week.
Over that time I’ve also received dozens of tip-offs and sightings. I’ve been told, with a straight face, she’s in Belize, in Brazil, in Bulgaria, even at Buckingham Palace. A lot of them are nonsense, maybe even OneCoin promoters trying to put me off the scent. But others could hold the clue to working out exactly where the cryptoqueen has disappeared to. (Sorry – no spoilers!)
The reality is that with enough money and careful planning, people really can stay on the run for years – especially if they’re rich. Matteo Messina Denaro has evaded justice for decades. Last year the police thought they finally had him, when a large police operation swooped into an Amsterdam café and arrested the cappo dei capi. But they’d got the wrong man: it turned out to be a Formula 1 fan from Liverpool.
Ruja is likely armed with fake passports and uses a fake name. She’s almost certainly undergone extensive plastic surgery, is well connected and stinking rich. I wouldn’t count on her appearing in front of a judge just yet. But even the fact there is now an international manhunt underway will make Dr Ruja sleep less easily. Her movements will be restricted still further – and she’ll be glancing nervously over her shoulder wondering if anyone has clocked her. And maybe more importantly, the people still selling her OneCoin to hopeful investors – yes they do still exist – will find even fewer unsuspecting victims.
Jamie Bartlett is the author of The Missing Cryptoqueen (out now) and writer & presenter of the Missing Cryptoqueen podcast series.