Three people allegedly linked to the multibillion-dollar pyramid scheme OneCoin were brought before a German court this week to face fraud and money laundering charges.
The three are alleged to have laundered over $300 million for Ruja Ignatova, the ‘Cryptoqueen’ who is alleged to have defrauded over $4 billion from 3 million investors globally. Ruja has been on the run for the past five years as national and global law enforcement authorities pursue her.
One of the three facing trial in Germany is a Munich lawyer who is alleged to have worked for Ruja. He is accused of laundering $19.7 million for the fugitive to purchase two houses in London. Prosecutors are also going after a couple who allegedly laundered over $315 million for Ruja in a single year, most of it being customer deposits, Bloomberg reports.
OneCoin was one of the most popular digital asset projects pre-2017, with Ruja luring investors with her “we’re replacing Bitcoin” marketing rhetoric. However, it turned out she was running a Ponzi scheme in which late-stage investors’ funds were used to pay off the existing customers.
“In reality, the ever-growing value was a fake and the mining process was only simulated by the software,” the German prosecutors said in court.
Ruja has been on the run since 2017, last seen in Athens, Greece. Law enforcement authorities have been after her for five years now, with the FBI adding her to its top ten most wanted list four months ago. The bureau is offering $100,000 for information leading to her arrest.
Ruja was tipped off by Bulgarian police, her aide says
With a $4 billion war chest, Ruja has managed to stay one step ahead of the FBI, Interpol, Europol, and dozens of national police units. However, a new report claims that she may have had sources from within these police agencies.
Documents seen by the BBC from Europol meetings suggest that Ruja knew of the police’s moves beforehand, aiding her escape. The documents were presented to the BBC by Frank Schneider, a former spy who served as an advisor to Ruja.
The documents contain information presented during a 2017 “Operation Satellite” Europol meeting held in the Netherlands. It had brought together Europol, the FBI, the U.S. Justice Department, and police agencies from the U.K., the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Germany, and Dubai.
All the involved parties have denied being the source of the leak, with FBI Special Agent Paul Roberts telling the BBC, “There were investigations all around the world into her, and into OneCoin generally, many of which she had become aware of due to actions by law enforcement in other countries.”
Schneider, the former aide to Ruja who now faces extradition to the U.S. for his role in OneCoin, believes it was most likely the Bulgarian police force that leaked the documents.
“When the Bulgarians participated at certain Europol meetings, it only took hours for her to get a complete rundown and get the minutes of what was said in those meetings. I can only deduce that it came from the circles that she was in and the connections that she had through a variety of influential personalities,” he claimed.
The accusations are in line with those made by Angelina Lazar, the advisor to the ex-Interpol director. In 2016, she claimed that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boris Boyko was “intimately associated with OneCoin” and that the company had bribed even the country’s president.
“Both Bulgarian and Serbian Interpol received a bribe, and were under their control, protecting the OneLife MobSquad! OneCoin was cosy and safe to operate across these borders, free from any hindrance or potential prosecution,” Lazar said at the time.
Europol is investigating the latest claims that Ruja was alerted by a leak from the meeting, with a representative for the force stating, “This complex scenario with many stakeholders makes it difficult to assess where and how such an incident might have occurred.”
Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—a from BitMEX to Binance, Bitcoin.com, Blockstream, ShapeShift, Coinbase, Ripple,
Ethereum, FTX and Tether—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.
New to Bitcoin? Check out CoinGeek’s Bitcoin for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about Bitcoin—as originally envisioned by Satoshi Nakamoto—and blockchain.