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Finns investing millions in new virtual currency; police keeping tabs on case

Police investigators say that they are keeping an eye on a new virtual currency, OneCoin. The National Bureau of Investigation said it received a request from the National Police Board to probe the legality of the operation. The Bulgarian company behind the crypto currency estimates that nearly 20,000 Finns have invested tens of millions of euros in the scheme.

One Coin -sivusto
OneCoin says it's a virtual currency, critics say it's network marketing reminiscent of a pyramid scheme. Image: One Coin -sivusto / Yle

According to the National Bureau of Investigation, its central Finland unit completed an initial review of the OneCoin operation last autumn, but its enquiry was not a formal criminal investigation.

Police interviewed OneCoin representatives and customers who had purchased the company’s training services as well as virtual currency experts.

Headquartered in Bulgaria, OneCoin claims to provide a crypto currency that is backed by solid gold. It offers financial education in its OneAcademy, and invites potential traders to invest in the virtual currency and a chance to benefit from high-earning opportunities.

Its main product appears to be different training packages, offered at prices ranging from free (Rookie) or 100 euros (Starter) all the way up to 25,000 euros (Infinity trader).

Police said that the case had not met the criteria for a formal investigation. Lead investigator Paavo Tuominen noted however that the authorities still intended to keep tabs on the matter. Law enforcement said that they are waiting for the company to publish its open source code towards the end of the year.

Finnish OneCoin director defends company

OneCoin Finnish country manager Tommi Vuorinen said that he had been interviewed by the NBI twice. He condemned the information given out by police about the matter.

"KRP sent out a release, in which they said that nothing illegal had happened but that they were not sure if something illegal would occur in future. From a legal standpoint that statement sounds rather odd. If it is legal, then it’s legal. If it is not legal then it’s illegal," Vuorinen added.

According to the OneCoin website, so far nearly 1.5 million people have already purchased its training packages. The company also told Yle that it had sold more than 18,000 packages to people in Finland. It was not possible to verify these figures using any other source.

IT expert: As good as Monopoly money

IT expert Petteri Järvinen has followed the company’s operations and said that what OneCoin is offering is simply a pyramid scheme.

"In my opinion OneCoin is play money created by a Bulgarian company and has roughly the same value as Monopoly money. When you have money that can’t really be used anywhere and whose value can’t be freely defined, then it isn’t really money at all. It’s just play money," Järvinen charged.

Finns investing tens of millions

According to conservative estimates, Finns have handed over some tens of millions of euros to OneCoin for training as well as virtual currency purchase options. However the sums involved could be even higher.

Finnish OneCoin point man Vuorinen said that Bulgarian Rina Ignatova owns 90 percent of the OneCoin parent company. However the cash that’s being harvested in Finland and other countries flows through a different organisation.

Monies are handed over to a Bulgarian firm known as One Network Services Ltd, as Yle discovered after sifting through the Bulgarian trade register. It turned out that the Bulgarian company also owns another local business, which in turn owns a third.

The person at the end of the chain of ownership is another Bulgarian, Veska Ignatov. Yle asked Tommi Vuorinen where the money trail ends.

"Veska? Ruja’s mother," Vuorinen responded, referring to Ruja Ignatova, an individual who has appeared in public as the Oxford-educated developer of OneCoin.

Vuorinen confirmed that the money earned from selling currency purchase options and training packages eventually went to the mother of the OneCoin company founder.

"Apparently, yes. This is something you can ask the company directly. I can’t say anything more about it," he added.

Parent company domiciled in tax haven

The waters appear even muddier considering that OneCoin has officially listed its parent company as domiciled in Gibraltar, a known tax haven. Yle found that the Gibraltar address the company listed is also used by hundreds of other firms, suggesting that it is a letterbox company with no real operations in Gibraltar. The operational organisation's head office is based in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

According to Vuorinen, in its first year of operations in 2014, OneCoin racked up revenues of around 1.3 billion euros. Vuorinen estimated the current turnover at more than three billion. These numbers could not be verified against any public sources.

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