A BBC investigation has found that British Muslims were targeted in one of the world’s biggest “get-rich-quick” money scams – the OneCoin fraud.
Journalist Jamie Bartlett received leaked OneCoin documents which listed all the user names of UK investors over a six month period. A significant proportion seemed to be British South Asians and particularly Muslims.
A whistle-blower later told him that British Asians were one of the main groups that had invested, and that several of the top UK recruiters were British South Asians.
The investigation concluded that millions of pounds have been lost by British Asians to OneCoin, and victims told the BBC of the untold harm the fraud had caused friends and families. But people were too ashamed to talk about it.
Ever since Bitcoin appeared, Islamic scholars have debated whether cryptocurrencies are permitted under Islamic Law. Mindful of this, OneCoin publicised a Shariah-compliant certificate, issued by the Pakistan-based Al-Huda Center of Islamic Banking and Economics.
Yet a Bradford-based scholar, Mufti Amjad Mohammed, who has looked into OneCoin, issued a fatwa saying that Muslims should not invest in it. The Al-Huda Center has since published a press release clarifying that it did not certify OneCoin as Shariah compliant.
OneCoin was rumoured to be the next Bitcoin – that digital currency that had been shooting up in value and minting millionaires. OneCoin’s founder, a Bulgarian-German businesswoman called Dr Ruja Ignatova, said it was the “Bitcoin Killer,” heralding a financial revolution and a unique new investment opportunity.
OneCoin reached 175 countries around the world, and over €4bn was poured in from hopeful investors. The BBC estimates as much as €100m was invested between 2014 and 2017 from people in the UK.
While investigating the company for the BBC Sounds podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen, the BBC found that OneCoin has no value outside its own eco-system; and its market price is just a made up number, not a reflection of any real demand and supply.
Two years ago, Dr Ruja herself was charged in absentia by the U.S. authorities for wire fraud, vanished and hasn’t been seen since. Her brother was arrested in the United States and has admitted his role in the fraud.
Yet OneCoin continues to operate from Bulgaria and in its responses to the BBC OneCoin rejects the allegations, saying “OneCoin verifiably fulfils all criteria of the definition of a cryptocurrency,” and “Our wish and aim is the [OneCoin] is to be traded to much further extent,” but that trading of their currency is “being slowed down by authorities, regulators and haters.”