OneCoin, the Absolutely Grotesquely Unbelievable 5 billion USD Scam Finally Gets the Attention it Deserves (But you may be unaware of something I am on this one)

OneCoin, the Absolutely Grotesquely Unbelievable 5 billion USD Scam Finally Gets the Attention it Deserves (But you may be unaware of something I am on this one)

By rhyzom | rhyzom | 18 Dec 2019


Dr. Ruja Ignatova is really a gypsy/Romani originally from my home town/area here. She worked for some time under the wing/guidance/patronage of Tsvetelina Borislavova, "the richest woman in Bulgaria" - daughter of an ex-secret service high up from the old commie regime and nomenclature here. She used to be the mistress of the current Prime Minister, who has been that for over a decade, is well-known organized crime figure (both before and after politics) and basically a thug who made it out of the 90's (involved in everything from the drug trade, to racketeering and kidnappings, and of course, financial fraud). And Ruja used to work in her private investment fund years ago. Which is undoubtedly where she picked up those skills (money laundering and financial fraud/crime) and made the connections. The ex-deputy chief of the Bulgarian central bank in 1996/1997 has been involved in the laundry of much of the revenue of OneCoin "profits" - he was that in the years when the central bank was run to the ground, with people's savings literally disappeared into air, but also with them, the debts of the so-called credit millionaires at the time (people who took enormous loans from banks without ever intending to return any of it), an obvious non-coincidence (and also one not unlike the more recent CTB scandal in the country).

Now, despite its EU membership, Bulgaria is anything but legit. Not only that, but the very people who claim to have gotten the country in the union some more than a decade ago have done so at the time because not only did they not negotiate any national interest whatsoever, but were unscrupulously prepared to screw everybody just so they can usurp power, the state apparatus and loot/steal those EU subsidies in the years to come (which is what they have been doing). During that time, the country went from #31 in terms of freedom of media and free speech (next to France) to #111 (next to Zimbabwe), while shooting up in the corruption, poverty, depopulation and so on indices. Coming to the point where right now the country is unofficially a failed state (and the UN projects it to officially be that by 2050). The EU and Germany had known who they were dealing with, but decided to seize the opportunity I guess and thus, Bulgaria has since been a peripheral Western colony operating as a feudal feifdom of the worst people imaginable. But after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union in the early 90's, as we entered the new era of financial capitalism and services, it seems the state apparatus (basically secret service and military counter-intelligence) very quickly recognized where this place should best position itself - what kinds of services, what regime of capitalism and so on.

And OneCoin is the most grotesque example of just that. The very tip of the ice berg. With what I just said barely even beginning to scratch the surface of it. OneCoin is connected with Bulgarian government officials, politicians, businessmen and organized crime figures - which in the case of Bulgaria may often be altogether synonymous, all these things. And they clearly are in this one, as with every other one where more money are involved. Not to mention the cocaine drug lords it is associated with and all the rest - a lot of it is probably yet to be known, if ever (the gov't here even passed a law recently where they classify most important documents/proofs for things for 70 years, lol - like in the old days...) But to give you a sense of size and magnitude, the biggest fraud in history - or recent history anyway, if not ultimately - is Bernie Madoff's who skipped the trailer park and went straight to the mansions and his was some 50+ billion USD. This is estimated at almost 5 at this point, but as more becomes clear, it seems like it has been a lot more. 

Some people and journalists here have been raising the red flags and alarms for some time, but never echoed. Only now is OneCoin starting to get attention. Here's the recently published BBC piece that goes in detail about it all (and also made a podcast), with some of the juicy parts cited here for your amusement and entertainment (if one could call it that):

Cryptoqueen: How this woman scammed the world, then vanished

Ruja Ignatova called herself the Cryptoqueen. She told people she had invented a cryptocurrency to rival Bitcoin, and persuaded them to invest billions. Then, two years ago, she disappeared. Jamie Bartlett spent months investigating how she did it for the Missing Cryptoqueen podcast, and trying to figure out where she's hiding.

In early June 2016 a 36-year-old businesswoman called Dr Ruja Ignatova walked on stage at Wembley Arena in front of thousands of adoring fans. She was dressed, as usual, in an expensive ballgown, wearing long diamond earrings and bright red lipstick.

She told the cheering crowd that OneCoin was on course to become the world's biggest cryptocurrency "for everyone to make payments everywhere".

OneCoin, Dr Ruja told the Wembley audience, was the "Bitcoin Killer". "In two years, nobody will speak about Bitcoin any more!" she shouted.

All over the world, people were already investing their savings into OneCoin, hoping to be part of this new revolution. Documents leaked to the BBC show that British people spent almost €30m on OneCoin in the first six months of 2016, €2m of it in a single week - and the rate of investment could have increased after the Wembley extravaganza. Between August 2014 and March 2017 more than €4bn was invested in dozens of countries. From Pakistan to Brazil, from Hong Kong to Norway, from Canada to Yemen… even Palestine.

: Graphic showing investment in OneCoin over time

[...]

The webinar hosts talked about Dr Ruja's glittering background: Oxford University, a PhD from Konstanz, a stint with the respected management consultancy, McKinsey and Company... A speech Dr Ruja had given at a conference hosted by The Economist magazine was shown - and that's what clinched it for McAdam. "That ticked a box... The power of the woman - well done! I felt proud of her."

: Ruja Ignatova at the Economist summit

[...]

It took McAdam three months to go through it all, but questions were starting to form. She started asking the leaders of her OneCoin group if there was a blockchain. At first she was told it was something she didn't need to know, but when she persisted she finally got the truth in a voicemail in April 2017.

"OK Jen… they don't want to disclose that kind of information, just in case something goes wrong where the blockchain is being held. And plus, as an application, it doesn't need a server behind it. So it's our blockchain technology, a SQL server with a database."

[...]

Despite the successful facade, trouble was brewing. The opening of a long-promised exchange that would allow OneCoin to be turned into cash kept being delayed - and investors were growing more and more concerned.

This was to be resolved at a large gathering of European OneCoin promoters in Lisbon, Portugal, in October 2017.

But when the day came, Dr Ruja - who was famously punctual - didn't show up.

"She was on her way. Nobody knew why she wasn't there," recalls one delegate. Frantic calls and messages went unanswered. The head office in Sofia, where she was such an imposing presence, didn't know anything either. Dr Ruja had vanished. Some feared she'd been killed or kidnapped by the banks, who - they'd been told - had most to fear from the cryptocurrency revolution.

[...]

Dr Ruja's genius was to recognise that established MLM sellers with huge downlines were the perfect vehicle to market her fake coin - a plan the FBI says she privately referred to as "the bitch of Wall Street, meets MLM". This was the secret of OneCoin's success. It wasn't just a fake cryptocurrency, it was an old-fashioned pyramid scheme, with the fake coin as its "product". No wonder it spread like wildfire.

[...]

It's hard to know how much money has been put into OneCoin. Documents leaked to the BBC say €4bn between August 2014 and March 2017. I've also been told by more than one person that it could be as much as €15bn.

There's a famous saying in journalism, "Follow the money." So with Georgia Catt, producer of The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast, I went to see Oliver Bullough, an expert on what he calls Moneyland - the shadowy parallel world where criminals and the super-rich hide their wealth. The problem, he explains, is that following the money isn't as easy as it sounds, because criminals structure their companies and bank accounts in such a way that their assets seem to disappear. "They still exist", he says, in his garden near the village of Hay-on-Wye. "You can still use them to buy things, you can still use them to buy political influence and nice houses and yachts. But when it comes to someone trying to find them - whether that's a journalist or a police officer - they are invisible."

[...]

It's hard to know how much money has been put into OneCoin. Documents leaked to the BBC say €4bn between August 2014 and March 2017. I've also been told by more than one person that it could be as much as €15bn.

There's a famous saying in journalism, "Follow the money." So with Georgia Catt, producer of The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast, I went to see Oliver Bullough, an expert on what he calls Moneyland - the shadowy parallel world where criminals and the super-rich hide their wealth. The problem, he explains, is that following the money isn't as easy as it sounds, because criminals structure their companies and bank accounts in such a way that their assets seem to disappear. "They still exist", he says, in his garden near the village of Hay-on-Wye. "You can still use them to buy things, you can still use them to buy political influence and nice houses and yachts. But when it comes to someone trying to find them - whether that's a journalist or a police officer - they are invisible."

[...]

When you're dealing with a scam worth billions of euros, it's not unusual for shadowy groups to get involved. Several of the people Georgia and I interviewed spoke darkly about mysterious people and connections they didn't want to name.

"When you talk about the amount of money that's been put into OneCoin of course there's people out there who are pissed off and would do anything to shut anyone like me up," says Bjorn Bjercke, the blockchain expert who discovered there was no blockchain, and started talking about it publicly.

He tells me he's received death threats as a result of speaking out. "If I knew what I would have to go through, I would have never blown the whistle. I would have just turned my back and walked away," he says.

[...]

When I ask him who might be behind the threats, he won't elaborate. "I can't discuss that. It starts to get very very very scary, very very very fast." According to Bjercke, Dr Ruja never expected OneCoin to grow so big. People involved at the early stages have told him it was never supposed to be a billion-dollar scam. She tried to close it down, he says, but the dark forces wouldn't let her.

"Once OneCoin was running above 10 million, 20 million, 30 million, something happened where she was unable to stop it," Bjercke says.

"I think she was so scared in the fall of 2017 that she decided to skip."

Igor Alberts, the MLM seller, also talks about the involvement of "very influential people".

When I ask for more details, he replies: "No, I cannot tell that because I don't want to take that risk with our lives."

It's not clear who Bjorn and Igor are talking about, or whether they are even talking about the same people, but the US Department of Justice claims to have evidence of a link between Dr Ruja's brother, Konstantin Ignatov - who took over the running of OneCoin when Ruja disappeared - and "significant players in Eastern European organised crime".

[...]

But it seems it's not just the promise of riches that keeps people believing. After Jen McAdam invested into OneCoin she was constantly told she was part of the OneCoin "family". She was entered into a Whatsapp group, with its own "leader" who disseminated information from the headquarters in Sofia. And McAdam's leader prepared her carefully for conversations with OneCoin sceptics. "You're told not to believe anything from the 'outside world'," she recalls. "That's what they call it. 'Haters' - Bitcoiners are 'haters'. Even Google - 'Don't listen to Google!'" Any criticism or awkward questions were actively discouraged. "If you have any negativity you should not be in this group," she was told.

Prof Eileen Barker of the London School of Economics, who has spent years studying groups like the Moonies and Scientologists, says there are similarities between OneCoin and messianic millennium cults, where people believe they are part of something big that is going to change the world - and no matter what the evidence, once they've signed up, it's very hard for them to admit they are wrong.

"When prophecy fails they believe more strongly," she says. "Particularly if you have invested something, not only money, but belief, reputation, intelligence. You think, 'Wait a bit longer.'"

Money might push people to invest in the first place, but the sense of belonging, of doing something, of achieving something, is why they stay, Barker says. "And in that sense it's cultic."

[...]

In the Ntangamo region of Uganda, not far from Rwandan border, most people make their living growing bananas, or sometimes cassava, sweet potato, beans or groundnut. In 2016 it was here that 22-year-old Daniel Lienhardt came as he was scraping together the 700,000 Ugandan shillings ($250) he needed to buy a OneCoin starter package.

He already had 400,000 shillings in savings, and to raise the rest he returned from the capital, Kampala, to his family home, took three goats raised by his younger brothers, and sold them.

"There was no other way," he says ruefully.

Daniel is one of thousands of Ugandans who've bought into Dr Ruja's fake cryptocurrency - and the OneCoin financial documents leaked to the BBC reveal that as time went on, investors like him became increasingly important to OneCoin.

[...]

People in villages trust people from the city, Prudence tells us. To buy the packages some sold their cattle, their land and even their houses - with disastrous consequences.

"Some of their kids are at home sitting without going to school - some don't have anywhere to sleep. Some are running because they got loans from a bank. Some are hiding. Some are divorced."

If anyone asks Prudence when the investment is going to deliver the promised riches, she tells them to wait. She can't bring herself to tell them the truth.

"I'm somehow hiding myself. I don't want those people I introduced into OneCoin to see me moving around. They can easily kill me. They thought I ate their money."

But though she has stopped recruiting, many others haven't, and there are still plenty of interested buyers, she says.

One of the main OneCoin offices in Kampala is attached to a church. There are videos of the minister, known as Bishop Fred, leading the congregation in call and response. "One Life!" he shouts. "One Coin!" the congregations replies. Bishop Fred, we learned, is now one of the country's top promoters of OneCoin, though he says it's no longer promoted during church services.

[...]

Where are you, Dr Ruja?

When we started planning the Missing Cryptoqueen podcast in late 2018, no-one really had a clue what happened to Dr Ruja after her disappearance. It was only earlier this year that the US authorities revealed she'd flown to Athens on 25 October 2017. And even then, the question remained, where had she gone next?

There were rumours of course - lots of them. Igor Alberts, the MLM kingpin, said he'd heard she has Russian and Ukrainian passports and travels back and forth between Russia and Dubai. It's also been suggested that there are powerful people who might protect her in her native Bulgaria - and that she could hide in plain sight because of plastic surgery that makes her unrecognisable. I've even heard that she might be in London. Others told us she was dead - which does remain a possibility.

[...]

A few weeks after our meeting Alan gets back in touch, with some amazing information. His colleagues - also private investigators - visited top-end restaurants in Athens armed with photos of Ruja, and in one of them several waiters claimed to clearly remember her dining there earlier this year. When Georgia and I called them ourselves to check, they confirmed it. So it seems Ruja is still alive, and is able to visit a European capital without fearing arrest.

[...]

Dr Ruja identified several of society's weak spots and exploited them. She knew there would be enough people either desperate enough, or greedy enough, or confused enough to take a bet on OneCoin. She understood that truth and lies are getting harder to tell apart when there is so much contradictory information online. She spotted that society's defence against OneCoin - the law-makers, the police, and also us in the media would struggle to understand what was happening.

And, most frustratingly of all, she correctly guessed that by the time we realised it, she'd be gone, along with the money.

 

Beats the shit outta the BitConnect meme, don't it? A lot of really interesting things left unmentioned too. One that comes to mind is that, for example, the Romani/gypsy people, they are organized in clans and castes of sort. So, there's different categories and they differ. The ones here, in my area, that Ruja is of their kind, are known as the worst ones - they had been expelled from Greece back in the day... 

Anyway, battery going down.

Laterz..


rhyzom
rhyzom

Verum ipsum factum. Chaotic neutral.


rhyzom
rhyzom

Ad hoc heuristics for approaching complex systems and the "unknown unknowns". Techne & episteme. Verum ipsum factum. In the words of Archimedes: "Give me a lever and a place to rest it... or I shall kill a hostage every hour." Rants, share-worthy pieces and occasional insights and revelations.

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