Advisor to missing fugitive goes missing

Frank Schneider speaks with the BBC

Frank Schneider spoke to the BBC for ‘The Missing Cryptoqueen’ podcast

A former spy wanted by the FBI and trusted advisor to the fugitive “Missing Cryptoqueen” has gone missing.

Frank Schneider, 53, was under house arrest in France pending extradition to the United States.

But like his former boss Ruja Ignatova, he disappeared before facing American justice.

He faces a maximum of 40 years in prison for fraud and money laundering for his alleged role in a $4bn (£3.2bn) cryptocurrency scam.

French authorities have confirmed to the BBC that Mr Schneider, who wore an ankle tag, escaped his electronic surveillance.

The Nancy Court of Appeal issued a new arrest warrant against him on May 16, meaning his whereabouts have been unknown for more than three weeks.

Neither Mr. Schneider, nor his wife, nor his lawyers could be reached by the BBC.

He worked as a troubleshooter for Miss Ignatova, architect of the OneCoin crypto scam. As investigators closed in on her, she boarded a Ryanair flight from Sofia to Athens in 2017, never to be seen again. The FBI is offering a $250,000 (£200,000) reward for information leading to his arrest.

Speaking to the BBC while under house arrest in August 2022, Mr Schneider said he doubted he would get a fair trial in the US.

“I fear that I don’t have access to a legal system where I can properly defend myself,” he told The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast.

“The system is largely based on what’s called plea bargaining. Now, for me, that’s already a problem, because I deeply believe that I’m not guilty.

“A trial in the United States is an extremely expensive thing for a defendant. It will cost millions – between five and eight million is the estimate in my case. These are amounts that I do not have.

“So I’m kind of stuck on what would happen in the United States, if I got there.”

Mr Schneider was first arrested by French police in April 2021 while driving with his family near the Luxembourg border. He spent seven months in prison before being released under house arrest.

From his home in a quiet French village, he gave a number of interviews to journalists while working with lawyers to challenge his extradition.

A Luxembourgish national, Mr. Schneider served as head of operations for the country’s intelligence service before founding his own private company, Sandstone.

His work for the “Cryptoqueen” included coordinating London-based lawyers and PR advisers who helped prolong his scam.

US prosecutors alleged that he also provided her with confidential police information. It’s a claim he has denied, but he has provided the BBC with confidential police records leaked from Europol meetings, which he claims were obtained by it. They seemed to show how she was one step ahead of the investigators before disappearing.

In December 2022, the BBC interviewed Mr Schneider again for an upcoming podcast episode and film. Although he lost an appeal against his extradition two months earlier, he rejected suggestions he had ever thought of fleeing.

“Running away has nothing to do with it. This battle is not over yet.

His extradition to the United States was approved by the French Prime Minister on February 15, 2023, the Nancy Court of Appeal confirmed.

Speculation has grown in recent months that Miss Ignatova may have been murdered, following a report by Bulgarian investigative journalists. They tweeted that the source of their story was Krasimir Kamenov, wanted by Interpol.

Mr Kamenov was shot dead at his home in Cape Town last month, prompting journalists to link the murder to the disappearance of Miss Ignatova. Miss Ignatova’s brother, also under house arrest, was ordered by a US judge to undergo a “mental health evaluation/treatment” the day after the murder.

Konstanin Ignatov is cooperating with the FBI after pleading guilty in 2019 for his role in the OneCoin scam.

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