Ruja Ignatova strode onto the stage in a flowing burgundy ball gown adorned with black sparkles. Beams of light flashed, fireballs erupted and Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” blared through the speakers.
“Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame. So bright, she can burn your eyes – better look the other way,” the song crooned as a beaming Ignatova thanked the cheering crowd at London’s Wembley Arena.
That was in June 2016, when cryptocurrency was an emerging buzzword and investors were scrambling to cash in. Ignatova called herself the “Cryptoqueen” and touted her company, OneCoin, as a lucrative rival to Bitcoin in the growing cryptocurrency market.
“In two years, nobody will speak about Bitcoin anymore,” she said, as investors applauded and whistled.
Sixteen months later, Ignatova boarded a plane in Sofia, Bulgaria, and vanished. She hasn’t been seen since.
Authorities say OneCoin was a pyramid scheme that defrauded people out of more than $4 billion as Ignatova convinced investors in the US and around the globe to throw fistfuls of cash at her company. Federal prosecutors describe OneCoin as one of the largest international fraud schemes ever perpetrated.