Written by Leonie Schulze
August 16, 2018 – The Russo-Japanese War began on February 8, 1904 and for a year and a half countless battles involving heavy losses were fought. 113 years later, a South Korean company is accused of having defrauded investors by spreading the news about the discovery of a ship that sunk in this war.
The Russian armored cruiser Dmitri Donskoi was launched in August of 1882.
The discovery of the Dmitri Donskoi
In mid-July of 2018, news agencies all over the world reported that the South Korean Shinil Group had discovered the wreck of the Dmitri Donskoi. The Russian armored cruiser, named after a 14th century canonized prince of Moscow, had been scuttled after repeated bombardment during the Battle of Tsushima in May of 1905.
Finding the wreck of the Dmitri Donskoi has been on goal of numerous salvage companies for quite some time. In 2001 already, a South Korean company announced having located the ship. Those claims proved unfounded. The Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST), too, reported the discovery of the wreck in 2003 and even provided visual evidence. No salvage was initiated, however.
Is there a treasure hidden in the vessel?
In the Shinil Group’s announcement, the findings were estimated to be worth a total of 133 billion dollars. The company claimed it had found 5,500 boxes filled with gold bullions and 200 tons of gold coins off the coast of the South Korean island of Ulleungdo. A correction of these statements quickly followed. A Shinil Group spokesperson reported that they had merely found boxes which were locked so tightly that they could only hold a very valuable content. In addition, the company had not (yet?) been granted the permission to salvage the hoard.
The press agency Reuters has reported that the existence of a treasure on board the Dmitri Donskoi has not even been proven yet. Historians have raised doubts that it would have made sense to transport a supply of gold of this size on dangerous sea routes. The Shinil Group nevertheless had some very specific plans as to what should happen to the salvaged fortune: Half of the treasure was supposed to be delivered to the Russian government. Ten percent were meant to be given to the South Korean President Moon Jae-in as an investment to create jobs.
Was the Shinil Group merely trying to boost their own share prices?
The confusing existence of another Shinil Group
What is really confusing at this point is the fact that there is supposed to have been a website under the name of “Shinil Group Singapore” where investors could purchase a crypto currency called “Donskoi International”. According to “Shinil Group Singapore”, the profit they would make from selling the gold taken from the Dmitri Donskoi would be shared proportionately among those who invested in said crypto currency. This website is no longer available. The South Korean Shinil Group disassociated itself from the crypto currency by explaining that a different company with the same name had run the website.
It all becomes even more obscure when it is pointed out that the South Korean Shinil Group has since also taken down the video footage that had shown the site of the find. However, as can be seen on the website of The Telegraph, neither gold bullions nor gold coins were visible in the videos.
At the beginning of August it was then reported that the South Korean police had raided the offices of the Shinil Group in Seoul with a total of 27 investigators. The company is accused of having tried to boost the price of its own shares by spreading the news about an alleged find. Furthermore, they had tricked investors into purchasing the proffered crypto currency. The CEO of the South Korean Shinil Group, Choi Yong-seok, continues to assert that there is no connection between his company and the one based in Singapore. According to South Korean media reports, however, his predecessor allegedly founded the branch office in Singapore shortly before the news about the find was published. Interpol has issued a Red Notice for the arrest of his predecessor. Choi Yong-seok, too, is prohibited from leaving the country as long as investigations are still ongoing.
To learn more about the history of the Russo-Japanese War, check out the summary on History.com.
If you’re interested in ship wrecks, CoinsWeekly repeatedly reports on their discoveries. For example, the salvage of the SS City of Cairo containing silver coins worth about 47 millions euros. The dispute about the San José demonstrated how quickly the reception of such finds can escalate.