GLOBAL CRYPTO CASE
Constantia killings and FBI-wanted ‘Cryptoqueen’ Ruja Ignatova’s intriguing SA links
The murder in Cape Town of Bulgarian Krasimir Kamenov last month has thrown up links to a billion-dollar fraud ‘cryptoqueen’ who is wanted by the FBI. She, in turn, has her own ties to South Africa.
The recent killing in Cape Town of Krasimir Kamenov, who had been wanted for murder in Bulgaria, has revealed trails leading to a Bulgarian suspect with some intriguing ties to South Africa.
Ruja Ignatova is a founder of OneCoin, also known as OneLife, a global crypto scheme that was created in 2014. She is now among the top 10 suspects wanted by the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Daily Maverick recently reported that murky matters linked to Ignatova cropped up following the murder of Kamenov, who was killed along with three others, including his wife Gergana, in Constantia on 25 May. All four were shot.
Murder, rumoured or real
Last week Daily Maverick reported that, in the month before Kamenov’s assassination, he had been named by Bulgaria’s public prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, as being among a group conspiring against him in a State Capture-style plot. Much like in South Africa, criminal elements are embedded in Bulgaria’s government.
At the time of his killing, Kamenov was also wanted in connection with an assassination in Bulgaria. He had allegedly been involved in the murder of a former policeman, Lyubomir Ivanov, who was fatally shot in Sofia in March last year.
That matter loops back to Ignatova. Some reports, based on documents found in Ivanov’s home following his assassination, suggested she had been murdered in November 2018 on a yacht in the Ionian Sea, which lies between Italy, Greece and Albania. However, her death has not been officially confirmed, so it may be untrue.
A day after Kamenov was murdered, the Bureau of Investigative Reporting and Data in Bulgaria, a partner of the global Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, said he had been its source for police reports about Ignatova’s apparent murder. The bureau also said Kamenov had been “about to say more to US investigators”.
Krasimir Kamenov – #Karo killed in Capetown was our source for the police report stating that his former associate Christophoros Amanatidis #Taki ordered the murder of the #OneCoin #cryptoqueen #RujaIgnatova on a yacht in Ionian sea. He was about to say more to US investigators.
— birdbg (@birdbg2) May 26, 2023
At the time of publication, police in Western Cape had not announced any breakthrough in the case, which remains under investigation and is highly suggestive of overlaps in the crime underworlds of South Africa and Bulgaria.
‘Bitch of Wall Street’
Ignatova also has ties stretching to this country. Based on a Facebook account and YouTube videos, OneCoin appeared to be in operation in South Africa. However, according to information Daily Maverick obtained from a person familiar with such schemes, it never gained much traction here.
According to the US Internal Revenue Service, “between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, OneCoin generated €4.037-billion in sales revenue and earned ‘profits’ of €2.735-billion”.
It said Ignatova was known by some as “the Cryptoqueen” and had once written to a former colleague, who pleaded guilty in the saga in December 2022, describing OneCoin as multi-level marketing “meets bitch of wall street”.
Ignatova effectively disappeared in October 2017 – her usual online presence suddenly stopped and she could not be traced.
Suspect was in Cape Town
This is where her younger brother Konstantin Ignatov fits in, because he took over heading OneCoin where she left off.
About five years ago, Ignatov posted several photographs on his Instagram account. One was of him sitting on a rocky ledge alongside a baboon, with the sea in the background. Another photograph showed him standing with the slope of a mountain behind him.
Based on the landscapes, Ignatov’s Instagram hashtags and captions, Daily Maverick established he was in Cape Town.
Though his presence does not suggest he was breaking any law while in the city, it is more proof that Bulgarian organised crime figures have been visiting – and also living in – South Africa.
Read in Daily Maverick: ‘Strip club fronts, drugs and diamond smuggling’ – book delves into Bulgaria and SA crime links
‘Lies and deceit’
In March 2019, about a year after the photographs were posted to his social media account, Ignatov was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport. He was later convicted in the US for his role in OneCoin.
At the time of Ignatov’s arrest, Manhattan US attorney Geoffrey Berman said: “As alleged, these defendants created a multibillion-dollar ‘cryptocurrency’ company based completely on lies and deceit.
“They promised big returns and minimal risk, but, as alleged, this business was a pyramid scheme based on smoke and mirrors more than zeroes and ones. Investors were victimised while the defendants got rich.”
From SA banking to lavish partying
When Ignatov was arrested at the airport, he was with Duncan Arthur, who has citizenship in Ireland and South Africa, where he had been based until about a decade ago.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Arthur was once the compliance head for Standard Bank Africa. He also lists several jobs with other prominent South African banks.
According to a document addressed to Bulgaria’s Department of Justice, Ignatova later “personally recruited” him, which is how he became embroiled in the OneCoin saga.
Arthur wrote this document, which is dated February this year. Daily Maverick has confirmed its authenticity.
“I visited OneCoin headquarters in Sofia many times and had meetings there with Ruja Ignatova, Konstantin Ignatov, [their mother] Veska Ignatova, and their lawyer, Irina Dilkinska,” Arthur’s document said.
Dilkinska was charged in the US for her role in OneCoin in March this year.
Arthur’s document continues: “I also was a guest at a lavish party Ruja Ignatova commissioned at a Sozopol mansion in honour of her daughter Davina’s christening.”
‘She’s still alive’
In the document, Arthur suggests that claims that Ignatova was killed at sea in 2018 are false because her brother had been keeping in contact with her.
Arthur says he had a “close working relationship” with Ignatov and was with him when he was arrested in Los Angeles in March 2019 by the US authorities.
“I know that Konstantin was in regular and direct phone contact with Ruja as late as March 2019, long after the alleged murder plot,” Arthur states in the document.
If true, it means that Ignatov may have been in contact with his sister while he was in South Africa around 2018, the same year some claims suggest she was murdered.
The FBI offered a $100,000 reward for information that would lead to Ignatova’s arrest. It said it was believed she travelled with guards and associates and may have had plastic surgery “or otherwise altered her appearance”, presumably to disguise herself in order to escape from authorities. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.