“It’s a gigantic pyramid scheme with all sorts of organised crime and money laundering angles to the story as well, but at the centre of it, it’s just this woman who built a very sophisticated scam and then disappeared with all the money; and then the FBI finally put her on the 10 Most Wanted list about three months ago.”
— Jamie Bartlett
Jamie Bartlett is the co-writer and presenter of the BBC's podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen, an ongoing investigation into OneCoin and the disappearance of its founder Ruja Ignatova in 2017. In this interview, we discuss the latest updates on the case that triggered the first new episodes in the podcast being released in over 2 years.
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OneCoin was called the greatest Ponzi scheme in crypto. Obviously, a lot has happened this year that is likely to result in a reappraisal of that statement. But, the fraud perpetrated was eyewatering: allegedly $4 billion was stolen from investors. This means it ranks as still one of the biggest Ponzi schemes both inside and outside of crypto.
Yet, what differentiates OneCoin from other Ponzi schemes is that the lead character has yet to be punished: in 2017, Ruja Ignatova, the glamourous and enigmatic founder of OneCoin, disappeared. Jamie Bartlett, a seasoned investigative journalist, started looking for her in 2019. Rumours turned into breadcrumb trails, which turned into credible leads, which turned into dust.
Whilst Ruja remains elusive, the deeper Jamie delves into this case the more ominous the story becomes. What started out as a scam by a set of audacious schemers, soon became a broader criminal enterprise involving organised crime, corrupted state officials and powerful interests. The FBI has made Ruja one of their ten most wanted fugitives. The stakes are massive.
A troubling aspect of this case is the willingness of supposedly reputable people and firms to engage in ‘legal’ support for this fraud, including intimidation of those who seek to uncover the truth. This case cuts to the core of what is wrong in both crypto and wider society: willingness within professional groups to go along with malfeasance when there is money to be made.
This is why we need more people like Jamie. More than the dogged determination to see a story through to a suitable conclusion is the dedication to a life without the quick and easy financial payoffs of other professions. Journalists are willing to avoid the incentives offered by other industries to pursue truth. Perhaps such uncelebrated bravery is the real story here.
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