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30 October 2019

The Missing Cryptoqueen is a truly gripping podcast

The tension is hideous. I am a blinking cursor, anticipating instructions.

By Antonia Quirke

“Hello, Jamie here. I know you’re expecting episode seven, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait just a little bit longer…”

A thoroughly eyebrow raising, then furrowing 90-second edition of the best podcast yet produced by BBC Sounds. Forget Tunnel 29, the aggressively hyped but dragged-out series about digging from East to West Berlin in the 1960s. The Missing Cryptoqueen, released weekly since 19 September, is much more nimble, a real endeavour. Presenter/producers Jamie Bartlett and Georgia Catt have travelled across an upmarket marina in Bulgaria, a Kampala slum, a metallurgic factory in South Germany and a crystal-littered mansion in the Netherlands, all in search of Dr Ruja Ignatova, the glamorous and amoral founder of a fake crypto currency called OneCoin who persuaded thousands to part with their cash to fund her outrageously fraudulent enterprise.

It’s a $4bn Ponzi-scheme with gaggles of investors still in its thrall. Many cultishly deny that OneCoin is a scam even now, still holding out for possible redemption. Everyone attached seems crazed to some degree, with the fire not just of impending wealth (and the fear of it slipping out of reach) but the notion that this was meant to be some sort of “revolution”. Freedom from banks and all attendant corruption. Fat chance!

I’ve never truly hung on for podcast instalments before. Not fully understood how charismatic a medium it can be. Quite how responsive and open – in this case, to a pile-up of apparent leads from computer forensic students in Pakistan, and algorithm translators in Malaysia, and listeners in Australia, Finland and Canada, all bent on uncovering the scale of the scam – which is frankly incredible. (In one Ugandan village, people have even traded all their land, homes and animals for OneCoin.)

What next? The tension is hideous. I am a blinking cursor, anticipating instructions. Being able to say to your listeners – bear with us while we scrap everything that was planned for this episode and make another, possibly better (but who knows), off the back of a new bit of information – just give us the weekend – how thrillingly confident. Form-defining stuff. 

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The Missing Cryptoqueen
BBC Sounds

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This article appears in the 30 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Britain alone