Yamashita’s lost gold and the largest lawsuit in history

Nazi gold is a folklore favourite.

As Hitler’s regime went about exterminating more than six million Jews and ethnic minorities, it confiscated, catalogued collected anything of value.

As you can imagine, Hitler ended up stealing an awful lot of gold, much of which is still unaccounted for to this day.

Stores of hidden Nazi gold have been circulating ever since the war, but it was apparently a Japanese general named Yamashita who pillaged the most.

According to legend – and more than a few reputable sources – Yamashita amassed 4,000 to 6,000 tons of gold and hid it in secret locations throughout the Philippines.

From Life Of Adventure:

According to popular lore, there are said to be 172 documented, official Japanese imperial burial sites (138 on land and 34 in deliberately scuttled ships), not to mention the numerous instances of loot buried by greedy officers and renegade soldiers.

The worth of all this booty is estimated to be as much as $3 billion at 1940 rates – the equivalent of over $100 billion today. According to various post-war estimates, the gold bullion alone totals 4,000 to 6,000 tons!

Many of those who knew the locations of the loot were killed during that final battle, or were later tried by the Allies for war crimes and executed.

General Tomoyuki Yamashita himself was executed for war crimes on February 23, 1946 taking the secret of his treasure to the grave.

The thing with stories like these is they mix fact and fiction to make something fantastical sound believable.

It’s true that the Nazis and the Japanese stole tremendous amounts of money, gold, art and valuables from their victims in World War II.

But the story of Yamashita’s gold, like the best myths, takes that fact and spins it into something far too incredible to be true.

From Wikipedia:

Prominent among those arguing for the existence of Yamashita’s gold are Sterling Seagrave and his wife Peggy Seagrave, who have written two books related to the subject: The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan’s Imperial Family (2000) and Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (2003).

The Seagraves contend that looting was organized on a massive scale, by both yakuza gangsters such as Yoshio Kodama, and the highest levels of Japanese society, including Emperor Hirohito. The Japanese government intended that loot from Southeast Asia would finance Japan’s war effort. 

The Seagraves allege that Hirohito appointed his brother, Prince Yasuhito Chichibu, to head a secret organization called Kin no yuri (“Golden Lily”), for this purpose.

It is purported that many of those who knew the locations of the loot were killed during the war, or later tried by the Allies for war crimes and executed or incarcerated. Yamashita himself was convicted of war crimes and executed by the U.S. Army on February 23, 1946, in Los Baños, Laguna, the Philippines.

As said, that story is surely too farfetched to be true.

At least it was, until the treasure was found…

Yamashita’s treasure was found in 1971 and led to the largest lawsuit in history

In 1961, Filipino treasure hunter Rogelio Roxas claims he met the son of a former Japanese army soldier who drew him a map showing the location of Yamashita’s treasure.

Not only that, but Roxas claims he also tracked down Yamashita’s former interpreter, who “old him of visiting an underground chamber there where stores of gold and silver were kept, and who told of a golden buddha kept at a convent located near the underground chambers.”

Over the net few years Roxas had formed a group of treasure hunters and gained a permit to explore the area where he believed the riches to be hidden.

Then, in 1971 (coincidentally the year President Nixon took the US off the gold standard) he found it.

Again from Wikipedia:

he and his group uncovered an enclosed chamber on state lands near Baguio City where he found bayonets, samurai swords, radios, and skeletal remains dressed in a Japanese military uniform.

Also found in the chamber, Roxas claimed, were a 3-foot-high (0.91 m) golden-colored Buddha and numerous stacked crates which filled an area approximately 6 feet x 6 feet x 35 feet. He claimed he opened just one of the boxes, and found it packed with gold bullion.

He said he took from the chamber the golden Buddha, which he estimated to weigh 1,000 kilograms, and one box with twenty-four gold bars, and hid them in his home. He claimed he resealed the chamber for safekeeping until he could arrange the removal of the remaining boxes, which he suspected were also filled with gold bars. Roxas said he sold seven of the gold bars from the opened box, and sought potential buyers for the golden Buddha.

Two individuals representing prospective buyers examined and tested the metal in the Buddha, Roxas said, and reported it was made of solid, 20-carat gold.

So far so, well, amazing.

Things were looking golden for Roxas. He had found Yamashita’s treasure and would be able to live out the rest of this days free from care, pain and money worries.

But then – and I am not making this up – the then President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos heard about Roxas’ haul and decided to take it for himself.

From Wikipedia:

It was soon after this, Roxas claimed, that President Ferdinand Marcos learned of Roxas’ discovery and ordered him arrested, beaten, and the Buddha and remaining gold seized.

Roxas alleged that in retaliation to his vocal campaign to reclaim the Buddha and the remainder of the treasure taken from him, Ferdinand continued to have Roxas threatened, beaten and eventually incarcerated for over a year

Knowing he couldn’t very well take a sitting President to court, Roxas waited.

When Marcos lost his presidency in 1986, Roxas made his move. He put together a lawsuit against Marcos and his wife and filed it in Hawaii. He was seeking compensation for the stolen treasure and damages for the human rights abuses he suffered.

Then just as Roxas was finally about to get retribution, he died – on the eve of the trial, no less.

However, the court case went ahead and his estate was awarded a judgement of $40.5 billion.

Unfortunately for Roxas’ estate, eventually that number was contested and reduced to around $19.3 million.

Again from Wikipedia:

Roxas died on the eve of trial, but prior to his death he gave the deposition testimony that would be later used in evidence.

In 1996, the Roxas estate and the Golden Budha Corporation received what was then-largest judgment ever awarded in history, $22 billion which with interest increased to $40.5 billion In 1998, The Hawaii Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that Roxas found the treasure and that Marcos converted it.

However, the court reversed the damage award, holding that the $22 billion award of damages for the chamber full of gold was too speculative, as there was no evidence of quantity or quality, and ordered a new hearing on the value of the golden Buddha and 17 bars of gold only.

After several more years of legal proceedings, the Golden Budha Corporation obtained a final judgment against Imelda Marcos to the extent of her interest in the Marcos estate in the principal amount of $13,275,848.37 and Roxas’ estate obtained a $6 million judgment on the claim for human right abuse.

Still, the court concluded that Roxas really did find Yamashita’s gold. The United Sates Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal summarised the judgement like this: “The Yamashita Treasure was found by Roxas and stolen from Roxas by Marcos’ men.”

So Yamashita’s treasure really did exist, really was worth tens of millions, if not tens of billions and was found almost 30 years after the end of the war by a Filipino treasure hunter.

That’s pretty amazing.

And ever since, treasure hunters have flocked to the Philippines in search of other Japanese treasure hauls. If you look out for them, you’ll find at least a few news stories a year talking about supposed new finds of Yamashita’s legendary haul.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

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