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.
And that’s where things start to get fishy.
The Shinil Group used the international attention their claimed discovery garnered to press sales of their cryptocurrency, using the promise of buying into their digital currency as a means to secure a share of the gold. However, as they did this, the company was also filing repeated adjustments of the estimated value of their find, starting with $132 billion and dwindling down to the most recent filing — of just $1 million. Now, the company’s cryptocurrency website has been taken down, as has a great deal of content pertaining to the discovery of the Dmitri Donskoi — and South Korean officials have opened a fraud investigation into the company’s activities. Among other things, the investigation also intends to determine whether or not the Shinil Group used their potentially fraudulent claims to bolster the value of their stock.
Police have indicated that they now believe the endeavor was led, in part, by a man named Rhu Seung-jin, who fled his native nation of South Korea in 2014 after being implicated in another money making scam. South Korean officials have submitted what’s known as an Interpol Red Notice for Rhu Seung-jin, asking that the government of Vietnam, where he is now residing, detain him for extradition.
Featured image: Choi Yong-seok, president of Shinil Group listens to reporter’s question during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, July 26, 2018. The South Korean company Shinil Group on Thursday backed off its claim to have found a sunken Russian warship with an enormous cargo of gold as financial regulators began investigating whether the outlandish treasure tale involved stock market fraud. | AP Photo/Lee Jin-man