The missing crypto queen

Rory Cellan-JonesTechnology [email protected] Twitter

If ever an enterprise needed a PR makeover, it's the sector of cryptocurrencies.

It appears every week brings evidence of scams and fraud, from the choices hacking of exchanges to Initial Coin Offerings wherein the founder disappears with the choices cash. Just on Monday, America's Securities and Exchange Commission charged the founding father of an internet person amusement marketplace with walking a fraudulent ICO (Initial Coin Offering).

But that case worried tens of hundreds of greenbacks – an insignificant bagatelle compared to the choices monster cryptocurrency rip-off whose tale is being told in an spell binding BBC podcast.

In The Missing Cryptoqueen, Jamie Bartlett investigates the female in the back of OneCoin, a scheme which controlled to influence investors round the world to element with as a great deal as £4bn ($four.9bn)

They had sold into the choices compelling vision of a brand new kind of cash sold via Dr Ruja Ignatova, in a chain of events in nations around the sector. You can trap a flavour of the choices aggregate of hoopla, hucksterism and blockchain balderdash in a video of her appearance at London's Wembley Arena in 2016.

Dr Ignatova – or Dr Ruja to her fanatics – walks on to “This Girl is on Fire”, tells an excited crowd that OneCoin is on path to overhaul Bitcoin, and derides “all the ones Mickey Mouse coins which have copied our concept.”

Plenty of humans had been satisfied, including one of the stars of the choices podcast, Jen McAdam from Glasgow. She invested €10,000 herself inside the Bulgaria-primarily based scheme and persuaded circle of relatives members to put in €250,000 – that's about £220,000 at cutting-edge trade quotes.

But in 2017, Dr Ruja Ignatova disappeared – and she or he hasn't been visible due to the fact that.

The research via the team at the back of the podcast has uncovered simply how a hit OneCoin had been in spreading its message around the arena. Internal files reveal that humans in a hundred seventy five nations invested, with a great deal of the choices cash coming in a six-month length in 2016 while Dr Ruja turned into on a international tour – along with that Wembley appearance.

In the UK, £26m become invested in that period, and the podcast group reckons that the entire coming from British investors may also had been as high as £96m.

But the files show that €427m got here from China in 2016, with people in South Korea, Hong Kong and Germany also keen investors. Even in poorer international locations like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Uganda, humans parted with sizable sums.

Earlier this yr inside the United States, Dr Ignatova became charged in absentia with cash laundering, with the choices Department of Justice calling OneCoin an old skool pyramid scheme.

And indeed this and other crypto-scandals seem disturbingly acquainted to anybody who has been in financial journalism for a while – the choices same old hints introduced with a hello-tech veneer.

Back in 2016, Bitcoin turned into nevertheless a revolutionary disrupter of the choices worn-out vintage monetary system, blockchain became going to be greater vital than the net and something called an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) turned into going to expose Wall Street that an Initial Public Offering become so “last century”.

Now, after the choices wild gyrations inside the cost of cryptocurrencies and the realisation that just about every ICO fails to supply on its overblown promises – even if it's no longer an outright scam – you might assume that “crypto” is the closing word everybody would want to attach to a new mission.

That came to thoughts this week once I attended a briefing approximately Facebook's plan to release a brand new cryptocurrency known as Libra. The briefing became with the choices Libra Association, the choices collective of 28 partners inclusive of Visa, PayPal, Uber and Spotify, who are joining with Facebook to release the foreign money.

The plan has already run into a whole lot of competition from regulators and I placed it to the choices Association's Chief Operating Officer Bertrand Perez that plenty of this was due to that C phrase. Surely such a effective coalition ought to have invented a brand new bills machine – a greater ambitious version of Kenya's Mpesa perhaps – that changed into neither a crypto-forex nor depending on a blockchain?

No, he insisted, blockchain was the cornerstone of the Libra challenge, resistant to fraud, speedy and green: “This technology is the choices future for sending and receiving money.”

Funnily sufficient, that changed into much like Dr Ruja Ignatova's message to the choices Wembley trustworthy in 2016 – OneCoin turned into going to be “without boundary lines, safe and easy to use.”

Now of path Libra is a totally unique kettle of fish, subsidized via many very decent establishments which have pledged that it’ll now not release until regulators are glad. But convincing governments that this cryptocurrency will no longer be a safe haven for money launderers, or pose a danger to monetary balance, is going to be an uphill warfare.

Back to OneCoin – the choices business enterprise behind it rejects allegations that it is a rip-off, and states that “OneCoin verifiably fulfils all standards of the choices definition of a crypto-foreign money”.

It says the podcast “will no longer present any sincere statistics and cannot be considered objective, nor unbiased”.

The corporation additionally claims that the choices allegations made approximately it around the world are being challenged, stating: “Our partners, our customers and our legal professionals are combating effectively towards this action around the world and we are positive that the choices imaginative and prescient of a brand new machine on the idea of a 'economic revolution' will be installed”.

You can listen to The Missing Cryptoqueen on BBC Sounds.

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