In June 1945, with US tanks less than 30 kilometres away, General Yamashita, head of the Japanese occupying army in the Philippines, knew the war was lost. He held a farewell party in Luzon province for 175 Japanese chief engineers, in one of the 175 underground tunnel complexes the engineers had constructed. At midnight, with the sake and patriotic singing in full flow, Yamashita (with two of Emperor Hirohito's princes) slipped out and detonated dynamite at the tunnel's entrance. Buried 70 metres underground, the engineers had only the mute company of row upon row of gold bars, looted by the Japanese army from the territories it had conquered in Asia.
Thousands of Allied prisoners of war and civilian slave labourers from Asia were also buried alive in underground caves, tunnels and mineshafts after they had built the hidden treasure vaults. The only people who knew of the secret stashes and were meant to remain alive, as Sterling and Peggy Seagrave reveal in Gold Warriors, were the Japanese military tops and the imperial family elite, who intended to recover the booty after the war's end.
Despite the murderous precautions taken to protect the secret vaults, US military intelligence officers discovered their existence and seized billons of dollars worth of gold, platinum, precious gems and cultural treasures from the hiding places. Together with Nazi war loot from Europe, the Japanese plunder was funnelled by the US into a secret "Black Eagle Trust, named after the Nazi insignia stamped on gold bullion stolen by the Nazis.
US President Harry Truman set up a secret, high-level government team to launder the stolen assets into 176 bank accounts in 42 countries. In charge was US war secretary Henry Stimson.
The Japanese militarist regime's looting of Asia had been systematic and vast. Government treasuries, banks, factories, homes and art galleries had been raided with ruthless efficiency, exemplified by the meticulous attention paid to hammering the teeth of corpses to extract gold fillings.
Japan's top underworld crime boss, Yoshio Kodama, was made an admiral and put in charge of looting occupied Asia's gangsters. Called "Golden Lily (after one of Hirohito's poems), the operation was headed by the emperor's brother, Prince Chicubi, and managed by some of Japan's top financial figures.
Much of the stolen wealth was taken to Japan, some to pay for the war, but most to slate the greed of Japan's elite. When a US submarine blockade of Japan stopped the flow of loot, it piled up in the Philippines.
Once discovered by the US, its was tapped to finance a post-war Japan that would be an anti-communist bastion in Asia. The Golden Lily loot now financed the clandestine Yotsuya Fund which supported a death squad of Kodama's criminal associates, headed by a US army colonel, which targeted student leaders, liberals, leftists, union organisers, journalists and others who got in the way of the revival of capitalism in Japan.
The Keenan Fund, named after Joseph Keenan, the chief prosecutor in the Tokyo war crimes trials, also drew on Golden Lily funds to bribe witnesses to falsify their testimony so that the reputations of the emperor, right-wing politicians and criminal bosses like Kodama could be refurbished and bolster pro-US and solidly conservative political influence in post-war Japan.
The fund bribed witnesses of Japan's chemical and biological warfare program to commit perjury so that the deadly knowledge they held could be kept secret and passed on to the US military. It also bribed witnesses of the Golden Lily project itself. Making common cause with the Yotsuya Fund, there were violent deaths and suspicious "assisted suicides of those who resisted the bribes.
Both funds were eventually rolled into the M-Fund, which began at a "modest US$2 billion, but grew quickly to be almost 10% of Japan's gross national product by 1950. The profits financed Japan's "self-defence army and the formation of Japan's hegemonic right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
The M-Fund paid huge inducements to all LDP factions to support Nobosuke Kishi, who was actively involved in the use of slave labour as a wartime minister (and with a sideline in narcotics since the 1930s), as LDP leader against a less pro-US rival. During his three-year reign as prime minister, from 1957-1960, the LDP received $10 million each year from the CIA, chiefly drawn from the M-Fund.
The CIA also joined in the hunt for undiscovered Golden Lily loot in the decades after the war. Like bees to honey, or flies to something much less savoury, treasure hunters from Japan and the US flocked to the burial sites or the seas where treasure-laden ships were scuttled just days before Japan's surrender.
When the Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos, one of Washington's favourite despots, cut himself in on the action after 1965, he used CIA aircraft, US Air Force planes and US Navy ships to shift the bullion. He used the CIA's global network of banks (such as the Nugan-Hand Bank in Australia, which had a board packed with retired US intelligence officials) to provide refuge offshore for the "black money.
Marcos (and Philippines President Corey Aquino in post-Marcos times) also had the help of the CIA, Pentagon-linked private US military firms and private intelligence organisations, which had joined the gold rush. As is the way with thieves, the joint ventures between the looters and politicians were often disrupted by deadly double-crossings and fatal fallings out.
US President Bill Clinton continued his predecessors' secrecy surrounding Yamashita's gold. He allowed the CIA to remove Golden Lily documents from declassified US records on the war in Asia, to avoid embarrassment for Washington. According to the Seagraves, two weeks into George Bush junior's presidency, two US Navy ships and navy commandos were despatched to the Philippines to recover more gold to replenish US gold reserves.
Swiss banks remain some of the major repositories and beneficiaries of the loot stolen by Japanese regime (and the Nazis). They cashed in on Switzerland's neutrality during the war.
One Swiss bank holds more than $190 billion (bigger than Microsoft's Bill Gates' net worth) in a covert US government account, the Seagraves report. US banks also have had their fingers deep in the golden pie, including the Chase Manhattan Bank, the Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank and Citibank. Just as Swiss banks have denied for decades that they were sitting on, and turning a huge profit from, gold stolen from Holocaust victims, so US banks clammed up about Yamashita's gold, hoping to wait out the death of potential claimants.
"Black gold was secretly put to work by all US presidents to "interfere in the political life of sovereign nations, to buy elections, to undercut the rule of law, to control the media, to carry out assassinations, in short to impose America's will, write the Seagraves. It was used by the CIA to manipulate post-war elections in Italy, Greece and Japan, to fund the dictator Diem in South Vietnam, to spread anti-communist propaganda during the Cold War, and to reinforce the treasuries of Washington's anti-communist allies.
For 50 years, the recovery of Golden Lily war loot and its continuing political deployment by Washington has been a state secret. However, Sterling and Peggy Seagrave's extensive research and investigation " as well as racy tales from the publicity-shy world of gangsters, spooks, private detectives, gold brokers and ruthless politicians " have produced a rich and painstakingly detailed (and occasionally speculative) epic of greed, cover-up and covert political intervention.
Reactionary anti-communism and war loot, which brought Washington and former Nazi leaders and Gestapo torturers together, were also the political mating signals that worked their dirty magic between Washington and Japan's war criminals and looters.
Yamashita's gold, also referred to as the Yamashita treasure, is the name given to the alleged war loot stolen in Southeast Asia by Japanese forces duringWorld War II and hidden in caves, tunnels and underground complexes in the Philippines. It is named for the Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, nicknamed "The Tiger of Malaya". Though accounts that the treasure remains hidden in Philippines have lured treasure hunters from around the world for over fifty years, its existence is discounted by most experts. The rumored treasure has been the subject of a complex lawsuit that was filed in a Hawaiian state court in 1988 involving a Filipino treasure hunter, Rogelio Roxas, and the former Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos.
The looting and the alleged cover-up
Prominent among those arguing for the existence of Yamashita's gold are Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave, who have written two books relating 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 yakuzagangsters 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 executed by the U.S. Army for his war crimes on February 23, 1946.
The stolen property reportedly included many different kinds of valuables looted from banks, depositories, temples, churches, other commercial premises,mosques, museums and private homes. It takes its name from General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who assumed command of Japanese forces in the Philippines in 1944.
The Seagraves and a few others have claimed that American military intelligence operatives located much of the loot; they colluded with Hirohito and other senior Japanese figures to conceal its existence, and they used it to finance American covert intelligence operations around the world during the Cold War. These rumors have inspired many hopeful treasure hunters, but most experts and Filipino historians say there is no credible evidence behind these claims.
In 1992, Imelda Marcos claimed that Yamashita's gold accounted for the bulk of the wealth of her husband, Ferdinand Marcos.
Many individuals and consortia, both Philippine and foreign, continue to search for treasure sites. A number of accidental deaths, injuries and financial losses incurred by treasure hunters have been reported.
At present, the Mines & Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Natural Resources of the Philippines is the Filipino government agency that grants treasure permits.
University of the Philippines professor Rico Jose has questioned the theory that treasure from mainland South East Asia was transported to the Philippines: "By 1943 the Japanese were no longer in control of the seas... It doesn't make sense to bring in something that valuable here when you know it's going to be lost to the Americans anyway. The more rational thing would have been to send it to Taiwan or China."
Philippines National Historical Institute chairman and historian Ambeth Ocampo commented: “Two of the wealth myths I usually encounter are the Yamashita treasure and gossip that theCojuangco fortune was founded on a bag of money…” Ocampo also said: "For the past 50 years many people, both Filipinos and foreigners, have spent their time, money and energy in search of Yamashita's elusive treasure.” Professor Ocampo noted “What makes me wonder is that for the past 50 years, despite all the treasure hunters, their maps, oral testimony and sophisticated metal detectors, nobody has found a thing.”
Rogelio Roxas lawsuit
In March 1988, a Filipino treasure hunter named Rogelio Roxas filed a lawsuit in the state of Hawaii against the former president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda Marcosfor theft and human rights abuses. Roxas claimed that in Baguio City in 1961 he met the son of a former member of the Japanese army who mapped for him the location of the legendary Yamashita Treasure. Roxas claimed a second man, who served as Yamashita's interpreter during the Second World War, told 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. Roxas claimed that within the next few years he formed a group to search for the treasure, and obtained a permit for the purpose from a relative of Ferdinand, Judge Pio Marcos. In 1971, Roxas claimed, he and his group uncovered an enclosed chamber on state lands nearBaguio 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. 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.
Following his release, Roxas put his claims against Marcos on hold until Ferdinand lost the presidency in 1986. But in 1988, Roxas and the Golden Budha Corporation, which now held the ownership rights to the treasure Roxas claims was stolen from him, filed suit against Ferdinand and wife Imelda in a Hawaiian state court seeking damages for the theft and the surrounding human rights abuses committed against Roxas. 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.
This lawsuit ultimately concluded that Roxas found a treasure, and although the Hawaiian state court was not required to determine whether this particular treasure was the legendary Yamashita’s gold, the testimony relied upon by the court in reaching its conclusion pointed in that direction. Roxas was allegedly following a map from the son of a Japanese soldier; Roxas allegedly relied on tips provided from Yamashita’s interpreter; and Roxas allegedly found samurai swords and the skeletons of dead Japanese soldiers in the treasure chamber. All this led the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal to summarize the allegations leading to Roxas’ final judgment as follows: "The Yamashita Treasure was found by Roxas and stolen from Roxas by Marcos' men."