Ruja Ignatova: The Bulgarian woman, who is said to be in her 40s, is sought for her suspected involvement in the OneCoin cryptocurrency fraud scheme.
The fugitive is accused by federal authorities of utilizing the scam to cheat people out of more than $4 billion (£3.2 billion).
Since 2017 when US authorities issued an arrest warrant and detectives started hunting for her, she has been missing.
OneCoin, a self-described cryptocurrency, started giving customers compensation in 2014 if they spread the word about the money to other people.
However, according to FBI investigators, OneCoin had no value and was never protected by the blockchain technology that underlies other cryptocurrencies.
Federal prosecutors claim that it was effectively a Ponzi scam disguising itself as a cryptocurrency.
Damian Williams, the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan, stated that the woman “timed her scam precisely, capitalizing on the feverish speculation of the early days of Bitcoin.”
The FBI adds fugitives to its most-wanted list when it believes the general public may be able to assist in tracking them down.
A bureau notice published on Thursday offered a $100,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of Ms. Ignatova, who was charged in 2019 with eight counts including wire fraud and securities fraud.
She is the only woman on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list.
Jamie Bartlett, whose BBC podcast investigation brought global attention to Ms. Ignatova’s story and the financial impact OneCoin had on her alleged victims, said the FBI’s announcement on Thursday increased the chances of her being caught.
“This is probably the biggest development in the case since Dr. Ruja disappeared in October 2017,” he said.
Bartlett, who has been investigating the case for years, said one of the reasons it had been so difficult to track down Ruja Ignatova is that she disappeared with at least $500m (£411m), helping her to hide from the law.
“We also believe she has high-quality fake identity documents and has changed her appearance,” he added, as well as raising the possibility that she may no longer even be alive.
Ruja Ignatova was last seen boarding a flight from Bulgaria to Greece in 2017 and has been missing ever since.
OneCoin victim Jen McAdam told the BBC back in 2019 that she and her friends and family had thrown a quarter of a million euros away.
Ms. McAdam said it all started from a friend’s message about an unmissable investment opportunity. Sitting at her computer, the Glaswegian clicked on a link and joined a OneCoin webinar.
Over the next hour or so she listened carefully to people talking enthusiastically about this exciting new cryptocurrency – how it could transform her fortunes.
All of them were “very up-tempo, full of beans, full of passion”, Ms. McAdam said. “You are so lucky that you’re seeing this webinar right now. You’re in at such an early stage and it’s just going to go like Bitcoin. It’s going to go bigger.”