New pressure on Bulgarian Mafia as One Coin fugitive named by FBI
The FBI’s list of most wanted fugitives has just received a new criminal entry. This is Ruzha Ignatova, the founder of the catastrophic One Coin, a crypto whose demise long preceeded the collapse of Bit Coin.
The One Coin fraud wreaked havoc with investors. Have the lessons been learned to this day?
The naming of Ignatova is not only a crypto story. It also adds another nail into the criminal state that is Bulgaria, a key Western ally and supporter of Ukraine in its fight with Russia, but where mafia continue to hold the whip hand.
Ignatova has always had the support of the Vis crime group in Bulgaria. Speculation is rife that Vis is backing Ignatova. Vis is a key ally of Bulgaria’s deep state, now protecting Ignatova.
Ruzha Ignatova was born in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria in 1980. The family had heard the roads of Germany were paved with gold and moved when she was ten. The Berlin Wall had hardly fallen. What happened next? Lots was boasted about Ruzha’s education.
She had studied economics at the University of Konstanz, she had been at the University of Oxford and studied law, she had gone to work for the blue chip management consultancy McKinsey. She was reputed to have worked for a financial services company in Sofia, called CSIF, and had connections to VTB in Bulgaria, a subsidiary of Russia’s second largest bank. No-one can be sure, smoke and mirrors was her trade and the true story of her rise to investor stardom would never be established.
Her father Platen had invested in a failing steelmaker – a very classic interest of tzeganin of the Balkan region — and this quickly went bust amid scandal. There was a police investigation that landed Ignatova with a criminal conviction in Germany although the 14 month prison sentence was suspended: she might go straight. A million was missing and she was rumoured to have stolen it. If investors knew about this, they were not troubled. But most certainly did not, or did not care!
Bulgaria, Ignatova’s homeland, had had its own financial bubbles as it surfaced from Communism. Crooks had taken state money released into the private sector and caught local inexperienced investors in many multi-million Ponzi schemes. But that was only Bulgaria, an obscure country in the southern Balkans, and who had heard about it anyway!
Ruzha, Konstantin, her brother, some shady lawyers, Karl Sebastian Greenwood, another player in this dark pool of electronic currency, dreamt of making their own fortunes from Crypto. Within a year of Ruzha’s German sentence, that was 2014, they had created and launched ‘BigCoin’. That had some hiccups and its name was changed to OneCoin.
Ruzha was on her way. She had worked in Sofia since around 2015, and was well known to those in the government of the former prime minister Boyko Borisov, who strutted the corridors of power in Bulgaria and to whom she looked for protection. Borisov is a candidate in the forthcoming general election, following the collapse of the pro-Western Petkov government. Ruzha’s friend Borisov is known to have built close links to Russia when he was prime minister and the country’s allegiance would be tested were he to return to power. protection for Ruzha in Moscow is a strong possibility.
The collapse of OneCoin gained speed when Bulgarian prosecutors raided OneCoin’s office in Sofia in January 2018 at the request of. German police. Europol, the European police force, participated. Another fourteen companies, tied to OneCoin, were investigated and 50 witnesses were questioned. OneCoin’s servers and other material evidence were seized. The pressure grew intense.
Ruzha has been helped by associates in Bulgaria’s organized crime community. Bulgarian organized crime is composed of two main groups, the Vis and the Sik and Ignatova’s partners were linked to Vis.
According to one source, the sequence of events was as follows. It is understood in July 2017 the German authorities informed international law enforcement they wanted to interrogate her and probably arrest her.
A scheme was devised to prevent this whereby she paid Bulgarian institutions (linked to the ‘Vis’ group?) with bitcoins to escape German interrogation. She transferred her property including her bitcoins to a Bulgarian fiduciary (whose name is linked to Bulgarian sources) allegedly linked to organised crime (as before, Vis). This enabled Ignatova to slip through Bulgarian customs and into complete obscurity, at a time when the German government was seeking to interview her. Despite the scale of the bit coin cache, Bulgarian authorities announced no arrests or further investigations.
The amount she transferred to the fiduciary reputedly corresponded to the amount Bulgaria paid the US for F16s in 2018 and it is thought the bit coins were cashed in to add to the Bulgarian budget. It can be inferred that the intermediary receiving the bit coins was part of the Borisov government which used the bit coin money to pay for the F16s.
It was reported that Bulgarian Customs had found 213,519 BitCoins in the virtual wallets of the main suspects as the proceeds of Ignatova’s scam. It was worth some €3.5 billion at the time.
Ignatova boarded a Wizzair flight at Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, bound for Athens, on 25 October 2017, and was never seen again. Numerous reports of her reappearance have been discounted.
Could local organized crime groups have muscled in on Ruzha’s fortune? Investors were cheated out of their money by crypto hackers reported a local paper who reported the Customs had come across some bad Bulgarians in on the OneCoin act.[i] “The large-scale operation was against an organised criminal group involving hackers facilitating smuggling of goods. Hackers were found to have created malicious software which, through its introduction into Customs Agency computer information systems, provided remote access to Customs information systems.”
The collapse of crypto is only part of the One Coin story. The threat to the key NATO ally of Bulgaria is another far more sinister one.
[ii] Author interview with Tzvetan Vassiliev, former owner of C Bank in Sofia, now resident in Serbia