Cryptocurrency has become hugely popular in recent years with the price of Bitcoin reaching record levels. But those who invested in another cryptocurrency, OneCoin, believe it was all a scam and they are aiming their anger at Bulgaria.A US lawyer representing thousands of victims of a 20 billion euro cryptocurrency scam has filed a petition with the Bulgarian Constitutional Ombudsman alleging the government in Sofia has failed in its duty to track down the missing money.OneCoin was launched in 2014 and was said to be the brainchild of Dr Ruja Ignatova, a charismatic lawyer who was the public face of the brand until October 2017 when she vanished.The company repeatedly claimed it was almost ready to exchange investors’ OneCoin for euros, dollars and other currencies but has repeatedly delayed this moment, blaming technical and regulatory issues.Jonathan Levy, a lawyer representing OneCoin investors, says: “The Bulgarian government has taken no steps to seize assets from OneCoin including real estate, bank accounts, and 230,000 Bitcoins worth over 12 billion euros.”He said: “OneCoin has been declared a criminal enterprise by the United States and other governments and its mastermind, Ruja Ignatova, is a fugitive. Nonetheless, OneCoin was able to hold a recruiting event in July 2021 in Bulgaria.”
Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin Ignatov, has pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering and gave evidence against Mark Scott, a Florida lawyer who set up a string of offshore bank accounts and shell companies to hide US$400 million of OneCoin’s money.Last month David Pike, 61, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud after admitting helping Scott hide the US$400 million.Konstantin Ignatov, who is now in the witness protection program, testified he had been abducted twice and threatened by criminal gangs involved with OneCoin, including the Bulgarian mafia and the Zurich chapter of the Hell’s Angels.
Mr Levy said members of Ms Ignatova’s family and their proxies in Bulgaria and Dubai control cryptocurrency, cash and assets bank accounts worth in excess of 12.5 billion euros.
What Happened to Dr Ruja?
Ignatova’s whereabouts remain a mystery with theories having been put forward that she is in London, Frankfurt, Athens, Romania, Russia or Dubai and a widespread belief among OneCoin victims she has undergone plastic surgery to disguise herself.
OneCoin was the subject of a popular podcast series – The Missing Cryptoqueen.The podcast claims OneCoin was essentially a pyramid scheme whereby investors were encouraged to put their money into a fund with the promise they would one day become extremely wealthy, like those who invested in Bitcoin when it first launched a decade ago.
But unlike Bitcoin, OneCoin did not have a blockchain and was therefore a financial mirage.Mr Levy said: “The petition states that OneCoin has links to violent organised crime and terrorism. Victims have been threatened with violence for speaking out and OneCoin promoters have been kidnapped, murdered, and assaulted.”OneCoin, which claims to have three million members, has not publicly commented since 2018 but at the time it advised investors to ignore the podcast and other negative reporting which it blamed on “haters.”
In 2018 the Bulgarian Special Prosecutor’s Office said it was collaborating with police in Germany and elsewhere and with Europol to investigate OneCoin.
Political Turmoil in Bulgaria
Mr Levy says OneCoin still has offices in Sofia and does not appear to have been shut down by the Bulgarian authorities.Meanwhile, Bulgaria has been in a state of political turmoil for 18 months and elections in July 2021 failed to improve matters.Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was ousted but the populist There Is Such A People party were unable to form a stable coalition government.A new anti-corruption party, We Continue The Change, led by Harvard graduates Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev, are believed to have narrowly won parliamentary elections which took place on Sunday, 14 November.