Where is Ruja Ignatova, the self-proclaimed cryptoqueen, hiding?

The missing crypto-queen

Jamie Bartlett

WH Allenp. 320£16.99

It’s a depressing book. It’s a reminder of all that is sick, broken, and generally evil about the human condition. It’s also a podcast-based book, which brings its own set of challenges.

To cut short a very long story, The missing crypto-queen tells the true story of a Bulgarian con artist named Ruja Ignatova, the self-proclaimed cryptoqueen of the book’s title. In 2014, she set up a multi-level pyramid and marketing scam based on a fake cryptocurrency called OneCoin. In 2017, after defrauding billions of pounds, dollars, euros and just about every other currency on the planet, and with the authorities shut down, Ignatova suddenly disappeared. His whereabouts remain unknown.

It’s a great story and a spectacular con. Jamie Bartlett’s unenviable task is to try to make sense of the whole enterprise, explaining the mysteries and complexities of cryptocurrency and blockchains, investigating the use of complex businesses and the function of trading platforms, as well as sketching out the involvement of a cast of hundreds of secondary characters. These include Ignatova business partner and versatile slimebag Sebastian Greenwood; notorious sleazeball salesman Igor Alberts; and Igantova’s dupe of a brother, Konstantin. The names of disreputable people pile up almost as quickly as their ill-gotten gains, with thousands, then millions, and billions mined by OneCoin from legions of the gullible attending bizarre sales conferences and corporate events in hotels and exhibition centers around the world.

So how the hell did Ignatova do it? Bartlett calls her a genius businesswoman, but it’s pretty clear that she was just an everyday narcissistic predator, exploiting the hopes and fears of people she called “monkeys”. the kind that doesn’t read the fine print and feels wronged. in the great rush for technological wealth of the 21st century. We all know someone who knows someone who made a fortune buying bitcoin, or day-trading, or investing in tech start-ups, or otherwise hustling, so why not you and me ? Well, the age-old lesson, if it really needs explaining again, is simple: just like your grandmother probably told you, if something looks too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. to be true.

The incredible story of OneCoin was first told by Bartlett in 2019 in a BBC podcast. (It seems possible, given the exponential growth of podcasting, that there will eventually be no novels, no non-fiction, no memoirs, and no original writing of any kind. There will be than books based on podcasts and social media posts and YouTube channels and TV celebrity spin-offs. Dread the future.) The Cryptoreine the podcast, it must be said, is excellent. Like the pioneering American podcast Serial, it’s a personality – a driven, binge-worthy piece of investigative journalism, combining good old-fashioned radio documentary values ​​with a bit of funky editing, and featuring Bartlett front and center as a sort of Louis Theroux or Jon Ronson. You can download it from anywhere you download stuff, then listen to it in the car while running errands or picking up the kids.

Turning a podcast into a book clearly presents some challenges. Prose is not just audio transcription. Bartlett has done his best, but some issues remain, with the sprawling nature of the material being perhaps the most obvious. With Ignatova and her grand plots, we are thrust into the territory of the 19th century novel and parts of the book are indeed written as if they were fiction: “Seated in front of two large screens filled with tables and figures set up to date as she sipped a Diet Coke, Ruja Ignatova, 28, was frustrated.

Other parts read like an introductory fintech manual. And still others like a feature story in a newspaper’s weekend supplement. There are jumps and segues that would make perfect sense in a podcast episode but in a book are just confusing. And there are weird and frustrating glimpses of Bartlett’s charmingly idiomatic conversational style that don’t quite work on the page: “There had been a fight over sponsorship slots”; ‘Economic crises bring casualties and losses, but for the foot fleet, the cracks are opportunities.’

It’s important not to lose sight of the real heroes and villains here. Bartlett pays tribute to the work of the brave anti-scam activists on the Behind MLM website who first exposed the truth about OneCoin. And he himself is a brave man to face these appalling individuals who wreak havoc on so many lives. Ignatova, remember, is still at large. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, she was added to Europol’s “Most Wanted” list. Europol’s call for information ends with the words: “Warning! The person sought or the persons likely to accompany him could be armed.

“Getting a dentist appointment is like pulling teeth.”

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