One thousand Samoan OneCoin investors search for missing money

Some of the 1000 Samoan investors in the OneCoin cryptocurrency scheme are increasingly worried their missing money will never be seen again, as a new lawsuit in America alleges the company operated a "massive" pyramid scheme to defraud investors of US$4 billion. 

An intelligence report from New Zealand police linked two Samoan Churches - the Samoa Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church (S.I.S.D.A.C.) and Samoa Worship Centre - to money transfers involved in the scheme including an alleged $6.5 million tala moved between local and overseas accounts. The Churches strongly dispute the claim.

It has been estimated that 1000 Samoans have already joined and signed up for the OneCoin scheme; a number of them are now questioning whether they have lost their money. 

Tina Laulu of Nuufou said she invested $100 tala and paid another $575 in order to receive a promised $15,000 tala return. 

“[OneCoin] said we were supposed to receive it in October last year," she said. 

"And in October the Government investigations on the OneCoin began, so they extended the date to December and now it’s August.” 

The Chief Executive Officer of OneCoin, Bulgarian national Konstantin Ignatov, has pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and money laundering after being arrested at a Los Angeles airport. The company's founder, his sister Ruja, has also been charged but not apprehended; she reportedly disappeared in 2017.

But in a civil claim filed in the New York federal court last week, a class action brought by investors in OneCoin alleges the Bulgarian firm engaged in a "massive" $4 billion Ponzi scheme.

The class action followed charges on OneCoin founder Ruja Ignatova and her brother, Konstantin Ignatov, with multiple counts of fraud over what the suit says arise "from a massive fraud perpetrated on millions of individual investors throughout the world causing injuries in excess of $4 billion through a densely-packed multi-level-marketing system”.

The suit further alleges that: "In short, the OneCoin operation was nothing more than an old-fashioned Ponzi scheme cloaked in a thin façade of new technology."

In Samoa, Mrs. Laulu said she is still waiting for her promised money. 

“I invested $100 tala last year and I put in another $575 later for what they call the ‘package’,” Mrs. Laulu told the Samoa Observer.

“They said we won’t receive any money from that $100 tala unless we paid that package money, that’s after paying $15 tala to register and providing the bank details. 

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“Up until now there’s been no news about it.” 

Informed of the lawsuit facing the founders of OneCoin, Mrs Laulu said: “If that is the case with all the money, then maybe our money is missing there too. 

“For me when I invested, I said if this is going into bankruptcy than that is it, that’s why I just paid $100 tala.” 

Meanwhile, the S.I.S.D.A.C. and Samoa Worship Center were implicated in an intelligence report from the New Zealand Police for their involvement in OneCoin earlier this year.

The Central Bank of Samoa said a 124-page report received from the New Zealand Financial Intelligence Unit estimated that NZ$3.5 million ($6.5 million tala) was transferred out of New Zealand as part of those transactions and two large churches – which originated in Samoa and have branches in Australia and New Zealand – used the OneCoin operations.

A statement issued by the Central Bank following the release of the New Zealand Police report, refers to OneCoin as a “scam” as it “contains ingredients of both types of scams – Ponzi Scheme and Pyramid Scheme.”

However, OneCoin rubbished claims made by C.B.S. that they are a "hybrid ponzi-pyramid scheme" that "laundered money through New Zealand to Samoa" and targeted individuals through churches.

The Central Bank of Samoa said a 124-page report received from the New Zealand Financial Intelligence Unit estimated that NZ$3.5 million ($6.5 million tala) was transferred out of New Zealand as part of those transactions and two large churches – which originated in Samoa and have branches in Australia and New Zealand – used the OneCoin operations.

These allegations were recently bolstered by Manhattan Attorney-General Geoffrey Berman, who said of the case against the Ignatovs. "These defendants created a multibillion-dollar ‘cryptocurrency’ company based completely on lies and deceit.

 “They promised big returns and minimal risk but, as alleged, this business was a pyramid scheme based on smoke and mirrors more than zeroes and ones.”

The digital currency company said in a statement to this newspaper that its associates are "self-employed business owners" and they are expected to comply with local regulations. 

“Let it be clear that neither OneCoin nor OneLife companies have organisation, representation or employees in Samoa and New Zealand,” the statement reads.

“OneCoin is a centralised, closed cryptocurrency. 

"The closed system has strict A.M.L. and C.F.T.  (Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism) policies as well as K.Y.C. (Know Your Customer) implementation, as in our case, prevents anonymous transactions.”

Update: This story was amended to clarify that a Samoan Church named in New Zealand intelligence report was the Samoa Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church. (As stated above, that Church denies those links).

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