Re: "no investments in any sort of real-world asset to back the coins"
It is certainly possible for an entity to issue securities that are backed by real assets (such as stock in a corporation with tangible assets), and that could, theoretically, include some real-world asset for backing a cryptocoin
My understanding from the article is that's precisely what Zaslavskiy was promising - that his funds owned sufficient non-cryptocoin assets to guarantee the value of the coins. He wasn't claiming the coins themselves were backed by anything.
For any sensible investor that should raise all sorts of red flags, but obviously sensible investors were not his target audience.
There are days when I think it would be viable to create a fund that invests in obviously fraudulent operations, then cashes out of them (taking Ponzi profits, i.e. bleeding off capital supplied by other, duped investors) before they go bust.