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”.
Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and is still the biggest and best-known – its rise in value from a few cents to hundreds of dollars per coin by mid-2016 had given rise to a frenzy of excitement among investors. Cryptocurrency as an idea was just entering the mainstream. Lots of people were looking to get involved in this strange new opportunity.
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…