BBC Sounds podcast investigates worldwide cryptocurrency scam - and its missing founder

What started as a search for a missing woman turned into a story of greed, deceit and herd madness.Jamie Bartlett, presenter
Date: 18.09.2019     Last updated: 23.09.2019 at 10.14
A new BBC Sounds podcast investigates a cryptocurrency scam and the woman responsible for a multi-billion pound international fraud.
  • The Missing Cryptoqueen sees Jamie Bartlett hunt for missing cryptocurrency founder Dr Ruja Ignatov
  • Data leaked to the BBC reveals that the scam was worth between £3.6 - £4bn worldwide, and shows for the first time the scale in the UK
  • At least £26m was invested from the UK over one six-month window in 2016 - and may be as high as £90-97m between 2014 - 2017
  • Victims came from 175 countries in what is possibly the largest crypto-scam of all time, and is still running today

A new BBC Sounds podcast investigates a cryptocurrency scam and the woman responsible for a multi-billion pound international fraud.

The Missing Cryptoqueen follows the story of Dr Ruja Ignatova, the founder of cryptocurrency OneCoin that promised to change money forever. Within two years, the company claimed to have over 3.5 million members, and hundreds of thousands of investors, with offices opening in major cities and events taking place around the world - even packing out Wembley Arena for a seminar. But rumours started about the currency’s legitimacy, with critics questioning the foundations of the scheme.

In 2017, Dr Ruja disappeared. She hasn’t been seen since.

In March 2019, Dr Ruja was charged in absentia in the US for money laundering, wire and securities fraud, with the US Department of Justice calling OneCoin an old fashioned pyramid scheme. Her brother Konstantin Ignatov, who took over OneCoin after Dr Ruja’s disappearance, was arrested in March 2019 for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and is expected to stand trial in the US.

Internal OneCoin data leaked to The Missing Cryptoqueen team show the scale of the scam worldwide to be between £3.75 to £4bn (€4.2 to €4.5bn) worldwide*, including at least £25.9m (€29m) invested from the UK over a six-month period in 2016. The team estimates that £90 – £97m (€101-109m) has been invested by UK members alone.

Victims include Glasgow based Jen McAdam, who was so enticed by the scheme she persuaded friends and family to invest over €250,000 in OneCoin. A number of victims are interviewed in the series, and listeners who have been affected will be invited to contribute their experiences through contacting the team.

Now, technology researcher and author Jamie Bartlett and producer Georgia Catt are on the hunt: to try to understand why people invested so much in OneCoin, why so many people still believe in the scheme, and what happened to founder Dr Ruja Ignatova. On a journey that takes them to the Bulgarian Riviera, a beauty pageant, victims in the UK, rural Uganda, Southern Germany, and a cryptocurrency luxury cruise, can they find the Missing Cryptoqueen?

Host Jamie Bartlett says: “This is by far the strangest and most exciting story I’ve ever worked on, and I spend my life investigating strange and unusual stories. Our search for Dr Ruja took us to places I never expected, and by capturing every twist and turn for the podcast we’re bringing the listeners along with us for the journey. What started as a search for a missing woman turned into a story of greed, deceit and herd madness. And who knows what more we can uncover now more people are aware of the story too.”

Jason Phipps, Commissioning Editor for podcasts on BBC Sounds, says: “The BBC’s reputation for big, important investigations is second to none - in this case showing for the first time the huge impact of OneCoin on people in the UK and around the world, and exposing the mystery of the woman behind it. We know listeners enjoy the opportunity to go behind the scenes with investigative podcasts. By exploring the world of cryptocurrency through this podcast we’re able to illuminate the complexities, unpick the intricacies of OneCoin and give those affected the chance to follow and be part of the investigation too.”

The Missing Cryptoqueen comes from the production team behind hit investigative podcast Death In Ice Valley. The story consultant is Chris Berube, and it features original music and sound design from Phil Channell and original vocals composed and performed by Dessislava Stefanova and The London Bulgarian Choir. The Missing Cryptoqueen is an original commission for BBC Sounds.

Listen to The Missing Cryptoqueen on BBC Sounds from Thursday 19 September. Download the free app, or listen online at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

*Leaked internal documents provide two separate data sets covering sales. One gives the total of €4.2bn; the other €4.5bn.

EW2