Last month, the Shinil Group out of South Korea claimed to have discovered the sunken wreckage of the 100-year-old Russian cruiser Dmitri Donskoi. The ship, lost 113 years ago during Russia’s war with Japan, has long been the subject of legend and speculation — with many Russians believing that it went down carrying some 200 tons of gold worth an estimated $132 billion. The news made international headlines for a number of reasons: such a significant lost treasure being found engages with the very best parts of our imaginations, and of course, with at least half of the money likely going to Russia (if recovered), a worst-case scenario for the Russian government would mean the discovery could fund their entire defense budget for a year.
Of course, for that to happen, the discovery would need to be real — and it’s increasingly looking like it wasn’t.
Even at the time of the announcement, the story of the Dmitri Donskoi discovery had some issues, but none more pressing than a pervading belief among even the Russian people that claims of the lost gold were a part of a Kremlin disinformation campaign of the era. The gold claimed to have been on board the Dmitri Donskoi, many believe, was likely actually transported by rail, as it made little sense to allow a ship carrying such important cargo to even engage with the enemy in the battle of Tsushima that ultimately led to its demise. Further, the Shinil Group wasn’t even the first company to find the wreckage — they were simply the first that claimed to find evidence of the treasure and the first to claim that they’d be willing to go down and get it.
The Shinil Group claimed that half the gold would go to the Russian government (as they are entitled by international norms), while 10% of the revenue would be set aside for infrastructure projects in both North and South Korea. Another 10%, however, would be distributed among the holders of the Shinil Group’s new Gold Coin cryptocurrency.