Missing Cryptoqueen Involved in a $4.5 Billion Scam May Have Been Killed by a Bulgarian Drug Lord

The BBC investigation claims that Ruja Ignatova may have been murdered by the Bulgarian mafia. The self-proclaimed crypto queen was involved in the biggest Ponzi scheme in crypto several years ago.

Cryptoqueen Ruja Ignatova

Ruja Ignatova, better known by her moniker Cryptoqueen, was murdered in late 2018 on the order of the Bulgarian drug lord, the BBC investigation reveals, citing a leaked police document. Her body was allegedly dismembered and thrown off the yacht on the Ionian Sea. The news hasn't been officially confirmed.

Ignatova, a Bulgarian native, was a key figure behind the OneCoin scam that tricked thousands of people worldwide out of around $4.5 billion. Born in 1980 to a Gypsy family, Ignatova later moved to Germany, where she became a citizen. She claimed to have studied at Oxford, earned a doctorate in private international law from the University of Konstanz, and worked for McKinsey, building her image as a financial and legal authority.

Cryptoqueen's criminal track record

Her criminal track record began in 2012. Ignatova was charged with fraud and sentenced to 14 months of imprisonment in suspension in connection with her father's acquisition of a company that went bust soon after in unclear circumstances.

In the following year, the future Cryptoqueen entered the multi-level marketing (MLM) scene, getting involved in a BigCoin scam started by John Ng out of Hong Kong. The project was a disaster, but it paved the way for a much bigger feat.

The next iteration of the scam was dubbed OneCoin, and Ignatova took the helm of the enterprise. In 2014, she co-founded OneCoin Ltd., a Bulgaria-based company that marketed its product as a cryptocurrency rivaling Bitcoin or – more persuasively – a "Bitcoin killer."

OneCoin: the biggest all-time Ponzi scheme in crypto

OneCoin's core business was selling educational materials (courses on cryptocurrencies, trading, and investing). Buyers were rewarded for recruiting new participants in a multi-level marketing setup. The internal exchange, xcoinx, allowed members to convert OneCoins into other currencies. However, in January 2017, the exchange shut down, denying most withdrawal requests. Many countries launched investigations into OneCoin, with some labeling it a pyramid scheme.

The initiative smelled fishy from the start. Promoted by well-known crooks, the coin was operated via an SQL server, a database management system unable to run a serious cryptocurrency. It basically consisted of an Excel spreadsheet and was marketed through a makeshift website displaying evidently fake transactions. Still, the project managed to convince thousands of dedicated crypto adopters, raising at least $4 billion, which positions it as one of the biggest Ponzi schemes of all time.

In 2017, investigators from Germany and the US started closing in on Ignatova. Cryptoqueen didn't wait for the confrontation. In October, she took a Ryanair flight from Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city, to Athens and disappeared like a thief in the night – pun intended. Ignatova, who was charged in the United States for fraud-related offenses and added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list, has been believed to remain at large. It turns out, though, that this might not be the case anymore.

Crypto Queen Ruja Ignatova
Source: FBI

The crypto queen and the drug lord

In September 2019, BBC started reporting on the Ruja Ignatova story in its podcast and related publications. Recently, BBC Eye Investigations and Panorama disclosed new facts regarding Ignatova's close ties to Hristoforos Nikos Amanatidis, going by the nickname Taki – a drug kingpin and mafia boss considered a leading figure in the Bulgarian underworld, compared to Mexico's El Chapo and Pablo Escobar.

The British outlet has been in touch with Richard Reinhardt, a now-retired IRS investigator who looked into the OneCoin case on behalf of the US tax authorities. He informed the journalists about Ignatova's links to Taki in his first interview in 2023, stressing that the drug lord's name came up several times during the investigation.

BBC already knew that from US government lawyers who spilled the beans on Cryptoqueen's connection to a major crime figure in 2019. "We do have evidence that a very significant, if not the most prolific, drug trafficker of all time in Bulgaria, was closely linked to OneCoin, served as Ruja Ignatova's personal security guard," one of the lawyers said.

Another source confirmed that the crime boss was behind Ignatova's disappearance in 2017. According to information from BBC's Bulgarian informant, Ignatova allegedly paid Taki up to €100,000 a month for protection.

The likely murder of Cryptoqueen

In the latest twist of events, it has emerged that the deal may have been broken a long time ago. BBC got in touch with Bulgarian investigative journalist Dimitar Stoyanov, who spent several years researching the case.

In 2022, Stoyanov saw a report found at the home of a murdered police officer. The document details how an informant overheard Taki's brother revealing in a drunk conversation that Taki's thugs had murdered Cryptoqueen in late 2018. Her body had allegedly been dismembered and dumped into the Ionian Sea from a yacht.

Stoyanov described this account as "very, very possible." The reason for the murder was to get rid of the liability that Ignateva had become to Taki and eliminate any connections to the OneCoin fraud.

More arguments supporting the hypothesis of Ignatova's death at the hands of Taki's hoodlums include property records and eyewitness accounts claiming that several of her properties have been used by the people linked to Taki.

Richard Reinhardt also thinks that Ignatova is likely to be dead. Due to the fact that the body hasn't been found, the Bulgarian kingpin has nothing to worry about in relation to Cryptoqueen's disappearance. He is believed to reside in Dubai.