Historically, the FBI's "10 Most Wanted" list is an all-male club for fugitives who have committed crimes like murder, bank robbery that led to a murder, kidnapping… that led to a murder… or running a drug cartel.
Murder is almost always required to make the list.
Below is a screenshot of the current 10 Most Wanted fugitives in the world, according to the FBI:
As you look at the above mugs, do any of those alleged murderers, bank robbers and kidnappers stand out to you?
How about the person in the upper left? Also known as the second most wanted fugitive in the world?
That's Ruja Ignatova.
Ruja is a trailblazer.
Not only did she break through as the only woman on the FBI's infamous current list (she's not the first woman ever, but she is the first woman in a while), Ruja did it without committing a single murder. Ruja's alleged crime? She operated a cryptocurrency called OneCoin that the FBI describes as "one of the largest pyramid schemes in history."
No one has seen or heard from Ruja in 4 years, 8 months and 7 days.
This is her story…
If this story sounds mildly familiar, perhaps that's because we wrote about Ruja almost exactly a year ago:
Ruja Ignatova was born on May 30, 1980 in Bulgaria. When she was 10, her family emigrated to Germany.
She reportedly spent some time studying law at Oxford before earning a PhD in international law at the University of Constance back in Germany. She then bounced around for a few years working as a lawyer and consultant.
Despite having one of the most sterling legal educations one can earn, in 2012 Ruja found herself on the wrong side of the law. Both Ruja and her father were reportedly convicted of fraud in Germany relating to a business they bought that quickly went bankrupt. She was reportedly given a 14 month suspended sentence.
Ruja's first foray into the world of digital money came in 2013 when she became involved in a project called BigCoin. BigCoin would later be described as a multi-level-marketing scheme. As it turned out, this was just an appetizer.
In 2014 Ruja launched OneCoin. The premise of Onecoin was pretty traditional as far as cryptocurrency goes: a decentralized, easy, and safe digital currency.
A compelling salesperson, Ruja traveled the globe extolling the values of OneCoin at countless conferences. She claimed OneCoin was a" financial revolution" that would "transform the life of the unbanked people."
According to Ruja, OneCoin was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be at the forefront of a massive revolution.
Thanks to her countless talks and rising fame, OneCoin rocketed in value, earning Ruja the nickname:
Unfortunately, according to the FBI, OneCoin wasn't actually a valuable once-in-a-lifetime revolution. It was simply a multi-level-marketing scam. Following the tradition of most MLM/Ponzi/pyramid schemes, OneCoin's value was primarily generated when current members recruited new members to buy the coin, through commissions. At one point, there were approximately 3 million OneCoin "investors."
Furthermore, OneCoin didn't actually have any value or perform any function. Amazingly, OneCoin didn't even have a blockchain.
To make matters worse for investors, even as the value of the coin rose, investors were never able to withdraw or cash-out. The exchange was continuously delayed for a multitude of fake reasons while the real one was… well, it wasn't real cryptocurrency.
Here's Ruja speaking at a conference back in 2016:
On The Run
While her investors couldn't get their money out, Ruja was allegedly pocketing billions of dollars.
The FBI alleges that Ruja used her brother and a lawyer to launder $400 million of OneCoin money. In 2019 her brother was arrested in Los Angeles. He pleaded guilty to money laundering. The lawyer decided to go trial. He was found guilty but is challenging the verdict.
As for Ruja, she has been on the run for four years, eight months and seven days. And now she's one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted criminals.
The exact amount of money taken in the OneCoin fraud is not known. The FBI claims it is AT LEAST $4 billion. Other estimates place the amount of stolen funds at $5 – $7 billion.
Whatever the amount, the vast majority of this money has simply disappeared along with Ruja.
As we mentioned previously, Ruja was born in Bulgaria and has spent time in Germany and England. She also allegedly has close ties to Russia and the United Arab Emirates. She could be anywhere. And $4 billion is enough money to keep yourself under the radar for a long, long time.
If you happen to come across Ruja Ignatova in your travels, the FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to her capture… Though considering she may have access to billions, you might get a better deal from Ruja to keep silent 🙂