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Emirati royal may have lost millions of dollars in 'cryptoqueen' bitcoin scam

Sharjah royal Saoud bin Faisal Al Qassimi reportedly lost around $52m in an alleged scam by Ruja Ignatova, who is wanted by the FBI
This image of a "Most Wanted" poster obtained from the FBI on June 30, 2022, shows Ruja Ignatova (AFP)
Ruja Ignatova's 'Most Wanted' poster published by the FBI on 30 June 2022 (AFP)

An Emirati royal may have lost millions of US dollars worth of bitcoin in an alleged cryptocurrency scam run by FBI-wanted German-Bulgarian "missing cryptoqueen" Ruja Ignatova.

According to the BBC, Ignatova, who is accused of scamming $4bn from investors through the OneCoin cryptocurrency scam, was involved in a 2015 deal with Saoud bin Faisal Al Qassimi, a member of the royal family ruling Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Al Qassimi reportedly handed Ignatova four USB memory sticks which contained 230,000 bitcoin tokens, worth around €48.5m ($50.5m) in 2015, according to leaked documents allegedly from Dubai's courts. 

In return, she wrote three cheques to Al Qassimi from the Dubai-based Mashreq Bank, worth roughly €50m ($52m), but they were unable to be cashed because Ignatova's accounts were being closed amid money-laundering concerns. 

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The 42-year-old, who the FBI says may have had plastic surgery to alter her appearance, disappeared in 2017 after allegedly tricking and scamming investors from around the world. 

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Jamie Bartlett, a British journalist who spent the last four years trying to locate the "cryptoqueen", wrote in the Daily Mail that Al Qassimi's bitcoin deal with Ignatova was in exchange for owning one of her companies.

The 230,000 bitcoins were estimated to be worth $1.21bn when Ignatova vanished into thin air in 2017. Their value rose to almost $15bn in November 2021. 

Ignatova could be the largest holder of bitcoin tokens, with an estimated value of $5bn as of July.

Al Qassimi sought in April to get the cheques' money paid to him from Ignatova's funds in Mashreq Bank, according to Dubai Court of Appeal records seen by the BBC. But as Igantova remains missing, it is unclear if he will ever see his money.

On Thursday, the FBI put Ignatova on the "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List" for "allegedly leading a fraud scheme that affected millions of investors worldwide", making her the 11th woman placed on its "10 Most Wanted List" during its 72-year history.

In addition, the FBI has announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to her arrest.

"She is currently 42 years old and has brown eyes and dark brown to black hair. Investigators, however, believe she could have altered her physical appearance," the FBI said in a statement.

In 2017, a US arrest was issued against Ignatova, and in 2018 she was indicted by a US court on charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

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