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A US lawyer has been found guilty for his role in the $5 billion OneCoin cryptocurrency scam and is facing a 50 year jail sentence. The scheme’s mastermind, Dr. Ruja Ignatova, is still missing. She is believed to have defrauded millions of investors worldwide, and has been dubbed the “Cryptoqueen.”
Mark Scott, OneCoin’s lawyer, was found guilty on Thursday of conspiracy to commit money laundering and bank fraud at the US District Court in Manhattan, following a three week hearing. He is due to be sentenced on February 21, 2020.
Prosecutors said that the former equity partner at prominent international law firm Locke Lord LLP was paid $50 million to route $400 million out of the US. The jury decided that he helped to perpetrate the scheme, which is still operating and headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“[Scott] used his specialized knowledge as an experienced corporate lawyer to set up fake investment funds, which he used to launder hundreds of millions of dollars of fraud proceeds,” prosecuting attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. “Scott, who boasted of earning ‘50 by 50,’ now faces 50 years in prison for his crimes.”
Scott’s lawyers argued, unsuccessfully, that he was not aware that OneCoin’s cryptocurrency was worthless.
Cryptoqueen meeting with former US president’s brother
Court documents revealed that Neil Bush, brother of former US President George W. Bush, was paid $300,000 to meet the Cryptoqueen in 2017. Scott’s lawyers argued that this bolsters his client’s belief the scheme was legitimate.
Bush was interviewed by US government officials in relation to the meeting on two occasions, said Scott’s lawyers. He explained that it came about because he was on the board of Hoifu Energy, a company owned by wealthy Chinese businessman Dr. Hui Chi Ming.
Ming was allegedly involved in a $60 million deal to buy an African oil field, with “a very large portion of the purchase price” provided by OneCoin, according to the report. Bush was due to profit from the deal, which did not go through for reasons unspecified.
OneCoin victims complain
Ignatova disappeared in 2018, and her story has recently been the subject of an acclaimed BBC podcast, The Missing Cryptoqueen.
She has also been indicted on money laundering and fraud charges, in absentia.
In October, her brother Konstantin Ignatov pleaded guilty to money laundering and fraud, and faces up to 90 years in jail.
US-based investors claiming to have been defrauded by the scheme are also attempting to sue Scott and the Ignatovs for recompense in a related case.
However, OneCoin has continued to issue statements, most recently to the BBC, that it’s genuine and "verifiably fulfils all criteria of the definition of a cryptocurrency.”
Meanwhile, victims have reported harassment and murder threats from those still involved in OneCoin. They say that too little has been done to draw attention to the scam, which raised money using the success story of Bitcoin to induce victims to invest,.
They also believe that the figure, raised from investors—from Uganda and the UK to Vietnam and the US—is much higher, and potentially in the region of $50 billion. That would make OneCoin easily the biggest crypto Ponzi scheme to date.