EOne of the main problems with cryptocurrencies – apart from the lack of regulation in places that are particularly attractive for corporate branches like Hong Kong, the Bahamas or Gibraltar – is that relatively few people really know about them yet.
The general public takes note of the fall of the “King of Crypto”, Sam Bankman-Fried, who, as the founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, had made billions at a young age, was courted by powerful figures in politics and business and endorsed by celebrities. But why exactly did its trading platform crash, bring down currencies like Bitcoin and Ether, and now could even bring stars like Gisele Bundchen to justice; how a billion dollars in customer funds could disappear and what gambling in FTX subcompanies has to do with it generally seems cryptic.
Miscalculation or fraud?
Did anyone here miscalculate wrong or also calculated cheated? Bankruptcy proceedings will show this. The lesson for overly naïve investors is to look closely instead of blindly relying on the hunt for yield or a safe haven for capital. Especially since knowledge of how blockchain currencies work is not common knowledge. It is also worth learning from past mistakes.
For example, of the case of the “cryptoqueen” Ruja Ignatova, who is structurally completely different, namely absolutely criminal, but has psychological parallels, which documentarian Johan von Mirbach unfolds in a film that is as catchy as it is insightful. His research is already visible in series in the media libraries of ARD and Arte. It’s a story of greed triumphing over reason and morality.
The billionaire scammer is gone
Ruja Ignatova is responsible for one of the biggest financial scandals in history. Since 2017, the German-Bulgarian woman, who was exposed as a fraudster worth billions and convicted in absentia by a US court in 2019, has been missing. She is the only woman on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list. From her high school days in Schramberg, Baden-Württemberg, where she moved with her parents when she was ten, to her disappearance after a flight from Sofia to Athens, the ninety-minute film follows an initially ambitious woman – a “top student”, says a former teacher -, then got richer and richer: by presenting herself as a former McKinsey force, she invented and sold a crypto-currency that did not even exist, to countless investors around the world.
How was it possible? To explain it, the filmmaker brings in front of the camera the former companions of the crypto fraudster, such as her best friend, the Icelandic model Asdis Ran, or Ignatova’s former adviser, the former Luxembourg secret service agent Frank Schneider, as well as financial experts, lawyers and other researchers. The result is a multifaceted portrait of a smart, luxury-obsessed mass manipulator who works hard for her unscrupulous goals and meets victims who believe in the fairy tale of miraculous accumulation of capital. Three scammed small investors who gambled their savings in Germany or Uganda show the harsh reality.
The scam continues
What they were counting on, as Philipp Bovermann of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and economist Michaela Hönig explain, was a pyramid scheme. Investors bought “educational packages” for five thousand euros, received 60,000 tokens – alleged digital coins of the OneCoin cryptocurrency – which were supposedly worth 240,000 euros, and sold them to others for a crypto commission. “Multi-level marketing” turned investors into contractors in an invented course system that was hyped at mass events with “Dr. Ruja” asserting itself on stage as a concert mix pop and gospel mass. Those at the top of the pyramid benefited from the influx of capital. Everyone else was exempt.
Video: ARD, Image: Cologne Film Festival
Ruja Ignatova soon had no idea what to do with all this money, invested in real estate and created a network of fictitious companies around the world. Did it attract the Bulgarian mafia? Was Ruja Ignatova murdered? Or does she live under powerful protection in Dubai, where OneCoin was headquartered? The documentation cannot answer this. But she traces how glamor lends illusion to an edifice of lies that was to collapse. That the OneCoin scam continues without Ruja Ignatova, under a different name and operated by others, is just one of the many legacies of this incredible story.
The Crypto Queen – The Great OneCoin Scamthis Monday at 11:20 p.m. in the first and in the ARD media library.