Bulgarian Authorities were Telling Cryptoqueen Ruja Ignatova When it was Safe to Return

Business | August 19, 2022, Friday // 15:07
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Authorities were Telling Cryptoqueen Ruja Ignatova When it was Safe to Return Wanted criminal Ruja Ignatova

Frank Schneider, the former head of the intelligence agency in Luxembourg, a specialist in corporate security and named as a key figure in OneCoin, reported for the first time that until recently Ruja Ignatova had her own people in government circles in Sofia who warned her of upcoming actions from the law enforcement agencies and advised her when to leave the country so as not to get arrested.

The "CryptoQueen", as the media called her, is among the ten most wanted persons by the FBI on suspicion of fraud in the amount of billions of dollars. But in the fall of 2017, shortly before she disappeared, she said that it was safest for her to be in Bulgaria. The events that Schneider recounts, including the last hours before Ruja Ignatova disappeared, took place during the second and third governments of Boyko Borissov.

In an interview published last week, while awaiting a final court decision in France to extradite him to the US, Schneider was asked if he knew what happened to Ruja Ignatova. He replied that she was probably killed. "I hope not, but I haven't seen any evidence to the contrary."

In front of the Italian publication Notizie Geopolitiche (NG), Schneider rejected suspicions that he helped the Bulgarian woman to escape and hide - a claim that started from the testimony of her brother Konstantin after his arrest in 2019 in Las Vegas.

He describes that he last heard from her in late October 2017.

"Around October 20th, Ruja told me that she needed to jump over to Bulgaria for a bit, which I advised her not to do, but she thought it was the safest place for her, knowing that the Southern New York District Attorney's Office had already was interested in her and her boyfriend Armenta was cooperating with the FBI against her."

In the interview, he says that they knew at the time of US plans to detain her by staging with the help of Gilbert Armenta an invitation to Costa Rica to meet with a candidate to buy OneCoin from her.

"Ruja was recording all her conversations with Gilbert, as requested by her contacts in the Bulgarian government, who were planning to oppose the scandalous plans of the Americans. I advised her under the circumstances not to travel. But she explained that her contacts in Bulgaria had told her to leave the country on October 25, because there will be a police action in line with legal cooperation with Germany," says Schneider

In reality, this raid was carried out months later, says Schneider, and he believes that the Bulgarian authorities wanted to create an alibi in front of Berlin and to say that Ruja was out of the country and there was no way to question her.

She took an early Ryanair flight on 25 October 2017 to Athens with one of her security guards and called him in London after landing.

"She explained to me that her bodyguard had 'instructions' to drop her off and return to Sofia. We were both confused as to who would give such instructions. She also confirmed to me that the bodyguard told her to leave later that day for Thessaloniki, where other colleagues of his would take her over."

Then she called from Thessaloniki to say that she got a message to wait for the new team for a few hours at the airport, but she was bored and wanted to distract herself with a little shopping. In the evening, they called from the car in which she was traveling to Bulgaria, and she explained that her entry into the country would not be registered at the border and if possible, they would meet in Sofia a week later.

"At 2 a.m. London time I got a message that said ‘safe house’ which was strange because we only spoke in German. After that I had no contact with her."

Ружа Игнатова празнува рождения си ден на парти в музея

Did he know what he was getting into

Frank Schneider talks about his early days at OneCoin and describes that "the business model was complicated and today it's hard to understand".

"OneCoin was a mixture of the wacky world of multi-level marketing (MLM) and the even crazier world of cryptocurrencies. The result was 'turbo madness'. MLM is not illegal, but it is often on the edge of the law, and many MLM organizations like Herbalife are in some phase of conflict with the law."

According to him, his company "Sandstone" thoroughly investigated who Ruja Ignatova was and what she was about, after which he set about helping to fix OneCoin's numerous shortcomings "on all fronts" - from knowing the procedures for dealing with clients through compliance with corporate governance principles to reputation management and legal challenges.

Frank Schneider now claims that "most, if not all, of my findings were simply ignored by Ruja" and that he failed to change the people at the company, whose business was steadily growing.

"Although she had a very clear idea, a compelling presence and was very intelligent, she was an incompetent manager who deliberately surrounded herself with people with poor skills, delegated almost every activity and finally completely lost control of funds, transactions, customers and corporate discipline in the operation of her key employees."

Asked what exactly he did for Ruja Ignatova, he shared:

"At first we did a series of checks on the people involved in her activity. Soon it turned out that there were problems with everyone in all areas of the company. The world of MLM was unknown to me and I found myself in a parallel universe of people who were making millions even before OneCoin from selling whatever through their networks. Everyone who helped Ruja manage the finances was unknown to me, from her friend Gilbert Armenta to all the financial processing companies and business service providers."

Schneider insists that OneCoin was not intended as a fraud or money laundering scheme. Ruja Ignatova was inspired by such ideas and concepts, but no one expected such an explosive success. The company fell victim to a combination of rapid growth and weak management, he argued.

"The disturbing part is that Schneider talked about her high-ranking contacts in Bulgaria who gave her information about investigative actions against her and helped her avoid justice. There are reasonable questions here as to who these contacts are and whether the Bulgarian prosecutor's office took any action on this line," Nikolay Stoyanov, an investigative journalist from Capital and author of an audio series and a book about OneCoin, said in a comment on Schneider's interview.

In another interview - with Luxembourg radio 100.7, Schneider said in mid-June that he worked for OneCoin for about two years (2015-2017) and earned 4-5 million euros.

Most of OneCoin's funds may have disappeared, and if the court proves that this is money laundering, I will have to bear my responsibility”, he says. Schneider adds that there should be more than 1 billion euros of OneCoin funds in accounts mainly in China, but also in Dubai and South Korea. In the same conversation, he says that Ruja Ignatova hardly disappeared voluntarily because she was imaging herself as a celebrity and it would probably be difficult for her to walk through the jungle with a luxury bag on her shoulder.

He claimed to NG that the OneCoin case is purely European, Ruja Ignatova also has German citizenship, and Schneider is a citizen of Luxembourg and wants to be tried there (his country does not extradite its citizens at the request of other countries), but the European agencies they did not cooperate but fought each other. That's why they didn't do anything while the USA is acting and threatening him with 40 years in prison. “I have been free since November and no European has contacted me to ask anything, and I have no reason not to cooperate with them”, he adds.

According to a Nancy court ruling from January, he is suspected in the US of:

  • providing industrial espionage for the purpose of money laundering
  • providing confidential police information, thanks to which Ignatova avoided arrest
  • supporting OneCoin's operations through a company in the United Arab Emirates registered in his name.

Schneider faces up to 20 years in prison on each of those charges.

Част от отговора на Франк Шнайдер, в която той посочва, че източниците на Ружа Игнатова през 2017 г. са били в управлението на България

Frank Schneider is a former chief of operations at the Service de Renseignement de l'État (SRE), Luxembourg's intelligence service, which is modernizing (in his words). He was arrested in France following a US extradition request, which was carried out by a commando unit. Prior to SRE, which he joined in 2000, he worked in the 1990s in the political section of the US Embassy. In office, he quickly found himself too ambitious and young to stay in his post for 25 years until retirement, and with too few political contacts to lead it. He convinced Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker to set up a government-backed intelligence company focused on gathering information on Luxembourg's financial sector. Thus, with the approval of the government and partially financed by it, Sandstone appeared in 2008.

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