It reads like the plot of a suspense novel.
International grifters bilk unsuspecting investors of their money through the leverage gained from a sufficient advanced and popular technology. The scam was spearheaded by a woman as brilliant and beautiful as she was mysterious, who disappeared without a trace with law enforcement on her heels, leaving nothing but the memory of her perfume and her co-conspirators to take the fall.
Now a US lawyer has been found guilty for his role in the $ billion OneCoin cryptocurrency scam, and now faces a 50-year jail sentence. Mark Scott was a equity partner at Locke Lord LLP when paid $50 million to funnel $400 million out of the U.S.
“[Scott] used his specialized knowledge as an experienced corporate lawyer to set up fake investment funds, which he used to launder hundreds of millions of dollars of fraud proceeds,” said prosecuting attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “Scott, who boasted of earning ‘50 by 50,’ now faces 50 years in prison for his crimes.”
Meanwhile, Scott’s lawyer argued unsuccessfully that he wasn’t aware that OneCoin was worthless.
Who is the crypto-queen?
Her name is Dr. Ruja Ignatova, a Bulgarian-born Oxford educated entrepreneur, who attracted interest in OneCoin through her lectures. She caught the scent of law enforcement on her trail shortly before an event in Lisbon, and boarded a plane to Athens in 2017. After that, she vanished into history, but not before perpetuating one of the most successful ponzi schemes since Bernie Madoff.
Law enforcement picked apart the venture, taking down her brother Konstantin and indicting her in absentia on money laundering and fraud charges. He’s doing 90 years in some hellish European prison while she’s probably kicking back drinking pina coladas in some non-extradition country.
The search for the crypto-queen has been undertaken by BBC podcasters Georgia Catt and Jamie Bartlett. It’s taken them to such diverse locations as a beauty pageant in Romania run by OneCoin and a town in Germany where Ignatova’s family once owned a metallurgic factory.
“She is an unbelievably fascinating person. She is incredibly brave in a strange sort of way, and a weird figure of obsession to the people that follow her. Our view of her went from ‘paper thin front person’ to ‘incredibly intelligent and highly skilled’ to where I am now, which is – as Ruja says herself in one of the FBI documents – ‘an expert in dealing in the grey area of life’, and finding gaps in rules and laws,” Barlett said.
But unlike femme-fatale stories where the movie ends and the credits roll, the audience never sees human cost. Nobody sees the bankrupted families, having lost their nest egg or life savings to a brilliant con-artist, weaving a tale about digital gold before revealing nothing but dust and lies.
The real kick in the teeth about the story of the crypto-queen is that it’s still going on. OneCoin is still being traded in parts of the world. The scam is still alive, having taken on a life of its own, perpetuated by true-believers caught in Ignatova’s elaborate web.
So much, in fact, that they have taken to launching scathing attacks on detractors and whistleblowers who have tried to shine some sunlight on this coin and its practices.
The question remains: why do so many people buy into these promises?
Perhaps it has something to do with the mindset that accompanies investing in cryptocurrencies and other speculative investments—that the right investment at the right time could land you in the money for the rest of your life. That delusional mindset is the kind of thinking that’s kept money-pits like Silicon Valley afloat, because when it seems that the economy is a big game of blackjack, then it’s a lot easier to believe it might be your turn soon.