Yamashita’s Gold (Part 3 of a 5 Part Series)

Dirty Tricks

   Japan is not the only example of how Washington used Axis war loot for political action during the first years of the Cold War. The Italian elections of 1948 are another.

   In postwar Italy, CIA agent James Jesus Angleton recovered Ethiopian treasure plundered by Mussolini’s forces. Instead of returning this loot to the desperately impoverished Ethiopian people, it was appropriated by the CIA and used to finance pro-American and anti-communist candidates in Italy’s 1948 elections. In addition, the Agency raised a great deal of money in Europe from the sale of surplus U.S. war materiel, and gave this money to the Vatican, earmarked explicitly for the war on Communism in Italy. The Agency then arranged for the Pope to provide 100-million lira from this personal account to back the anti-communist ticket during the elections.

        By the 1960s, Angleton was back in Washington running the counterintelligence staff of the CIA, often wryly referred to as The Gestapo, which had its own “very secret slush fund … that was never audited”. The CIA’s ‘historical intelligence budget information’ (how it actually spent covert funds) remains one of its biggest secrets to this day, apparently on the premise that it can never reveal who was bribed, coerced, or paid off, no matter how many decades pass, or what misjudgments, folly, and corruption, were involved. We may well wonder whether this really is intended to protect the recipients, or the American officials who fiddled the funds.

      Similar U.S. covert intervention occurred in Greece, when Britain gave notice that her empty treasury compelled her to end all financial and military aid to the eastern end of the Mediterranean, quitting her role in Greece and Turkey. Fearing the spread of communism, London appealed to Washington to step into the vacuum. Greece was in the throes of civil war, and Turkey might be next to fall, in what Secretary of State Dean Acheson called the ‘rotten apple in the barrel syndrome’ (later the ‘domino theory’). Truman called a joint session of Congress and asked for $400-million in aid for Greece and Turkey.

        Secretly, Truman simultaneously authorized the use of Axis war loot and other unvouchered funds to do precisely that – 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, and to impose America’s will on countries with whom it was not at war.

        The man put in charge of these dirty tricks was Frank Wisner. He had an especially free hand in Asia. CIA director Allen Dulles knew little about Asia, so he gave that part of the world entirely to Wisner’s Office of Policy Coordination, which included a group of maverick OSS ‘China Cowboys’.

       Driven from China by the communist victory in 1949, the Cowboys regrouped in Japan, or Korea, or fled to Taiwan with Generalissimo Chiang.  Wisner was a pivotal figure in giving postwar U.S. covert operations the especially dirty qualities that have since come to haunt many Americans. New CIA directors and deputy directors came and went, as America became mired deeper and deeper in the muck of black operations.

The Umbrella

      Today, the Philippine government denies that Santa Romana ever existed: “He’s just a legend.” Santa Romana is real, and that his vast fortune of cash and gold bullion sleeps in banks all over the world.

The gold recovered by Santy became the asset base for many secret funds like the M-Fund. He was the gatekeeper of America’s Golden Lily recoveries, until Ferdinand Marcos moved in, elbowed him aside, and took over as the new gatekeeper.

After Santy completed his recoveries in 1947, there was a lull of twenty years before Marcos began making similar ones. During the late 1950s, small groups of Japanese returned quietly to the Philippines to recover gold under various pretexts. Some claimed to be seeking the remains of dead soldiers for Shinto reburial in Japan. Tokyo offered to help Filipinos repair war damage with ‘free’ infrastructure projects, including irrigation systems and roads that took unlikely routes through the mountains.   

 Japanese salvage firms offered to remove the hulks cluttering up Manila Bay, and to dredge and restore the battered bay front; in the course of this work they salvaged ships that had been scuttled at the docks with bullion aboard.

Japanese corporations built factories in odd locations throughout the Philippines, on foundations requiring deep excavations. When these factories were completed, Filipino workers on their assembly lines put together TVs and tape recorders, computers, refrigerators and air conditioners, which were then shipped to Japan in remarkably heavy crates – the CIA knew that gold bullion was being smuggled out of the Philippines this way, but did not interfere.

   The first time Marcos recovered gold was an accident, when he heard about two Japanese digging in Ilocos Norte, the home province of the Marcos family in the northwest corner of Luzon. Imperial Army veterans, they had hidden a small stash of their own. Marcos confiscated their gold biscuit bars.

    As a sharp young politician, Marcos heard about Santy’s recoveries and cultivated him aggressively. Being a lawyer, Marcos could make himself useful in many ways. Gradually, he began to take over parts of Santy’s operation, called The Umbrella. When he was elected president in 1965, Marcos was approached directly by Japanese underworld fixer Sasakawa Ryoichi, offering to do joint recoveries of war loot. A crony of Kodama, Sasakawa knew the location of a number of major vaults. For a substantial cut, Marcos could grant presidential authorizations. It was typical of Marcos to scavenge this way, rather than do treasure hunting himself. In 1971, Marcos hijacked an extraordinary treasure that few people have ever seen, but is now world-famous.

     In January of that year, a Filipino locksmith and amateur treasure hunter named Rogelio ‘Roger’ Roxas crawled into a tunnel dug by the Japanese Army and found a magnificent solid gold Buddha weighing one ton. The seated Buddha, 28-inches tall and distinctly Burmese in style had been confiscated from a Buddhist order in Mandalay, to whom it represented the accumulated wealth of centuries.

     What happened to Roxas after that is so bizarre that we took pains to base our narrative largely on the trial record of The Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii, Roger Roxas and the Golden Buddha Corporation v. Marcos. This court case concluded with the award of $43-billion, the biggest civil award in judicial history. The court’s ‘findings of fact’ were assembled from thousands of pages of testimony, transcripts, original documents, photographs, and videotaped depositions. Neither the Marcos defense attorneys nor the Roxas legal team disputed the summary.

  During the years when Roxas was being persecuted and tortured, President Marcos was pressing Santa Romana to turn over some of his big gold accounts.  The relationship between them went back a long way. A family source told us that Marcos and Santy first teamed up in the early 1960s, before Marcos became president. His business aliases, which he started using in the late 1940s, appear on bank documents all over the world.

       As gatekeeper of the Japanese plunder recoveries, Santy used his aliases on behalf of the CIA and the Treasury Department, serving as controller and sole stockholder of a blizzard of front companies beginning with DNP Enterprises (Diaz-Nanette- Poirrotte), registered in Monaco. Because he was title-holder of bullion accounts in banks all over the world, one company was not adequate. Others were formed. These were shell companies, set up to hide the movement of gold bullion from Manila to world banking centers.

         Santy also set up a trust in Liechtenstein originally called the Santa Romana Foundation, which later evolved into the Sandy Foundation, or (in German) Sandy Anstalt. The German variant appears as a cryptic reference in letters from Wall Street firms, including Sullivan & Cromwell, the law firm of John Foster Dulles and the premier law firm of the Rockefellers – as if Sandy Anstalt is the name of a client everybody knows and loves.

    The corporate logo for Santy’s flagship DNP Enterprises was an open umbrella, signifying ‘umbrella organization’. But it was not just a logo. The Umbrella also was the codename for the group Santy relied on to move gold from the Philippines to foreign banks. The Umbrella served as a conduit of gold bullion for many banks identified with the CIA. Paul Helliwell, an OSS-officer who spent WW2 based in Kunming, became an intimate CIA associate of Bill Casey and Ray Cline, and was involved in moving the first generation recoveries of Yamashita’s Gold out of the Philippines. In 1950 Helliwell helped arrange the purchase of Chennault’s CAT cargo airline and turn it into Air America. A year later, Helliwell set up Sea Supply Corp., a CIA front used to run supplies to the Nationalists in China, which also ran Nationalist opium and heroin out of the Golden Triangle for the KMT opium armies.

    Helliwell then ‘retired’ to Nassau where he set up Castle Bank, and Mercantile Bank.  Helliwell’s Castle Bank was one of a worldwide network of banks identified with the CIA, which allowed black money to move outside normal banking channels, providing offshore refuge for the ill-gotten gains of dictators, warlords, and dissident Asian military officers. When Castle Bank became notorious, it was folded and superseded by one in Australia called Nugan-Hand Bank, which had a board packed with retired U.S. intelligence officials and Pentagon brass, with CIA director William Colby as its legal counsel. When Nugan-Hand collapsed, following several murders, BCCI moved into the picture. And when BCCI finally collapsed in 1991, the CIA admitted it used BCCI for years to pay for covert operations.

           CIA needed deniability, so it subcontracted much of the financial routine to Santy, who happily played the role of the mysterious Filipino billionaire. When black gold had to be moved from the Philippines to a bank in Hong Kong, Zurich, Buenos Aires, or London, documents – including cargo manifests, waybills and insurance covers show that gold was moved from Clark Air Base on U.S. aircraft, or from Subic Bay aboard U.S. Navy vessels, or from Manila International Airport aboard Cathay Pacific and other airlines, or from the bay-front on American President Lines passenger ships. The Umbrella took care of security, accompanying the bullion to its destination. The Mafia first became involved after the war when a lot of Santy’s gold was moved to banks in Italy, including the Vatican bank, as part of the CIA effort to keep the Italian Communist Party from coming to power.

      Each time a new account was opened; Santy’s name or one of his aliases was entered as the account holder. Because he used so many aliases, he was referred to sometimes as ‘The Man with No Name’. To access any of these bank accounts required the proper bank codes, passwords, and sheaves of documents, including Santy’s own codes and jingles he learned from Lansdale. On the face of it, Santy remained the titleholder of these accounts, yet the assets – or their derivatives – appear to have been used by various governments, through secret earmarking arrangements with the Federal Reserve, Bank of England, Bank of Japan, and Swiss banks.

In return for gatekeeping these accounts, Santy received a generous management fee that was never disclosed, probably a percentage of each account’s net assets. A management fee of 1 percent per year for a $1-billion account would yield $10-million; a smaller fee of .1 percent would yield an annual fee of $1-million – and there were dozens and dozens of these accounts. By the early 1970s, the accounts closely linked to Santy, and considered by some sources to belong to him, were modestly estimated to total well over $50-billion. If these accounts were his personal property, he would have been one of the world’s richest men. But he never became an international celebrity.

    We know that he visited Washington as a guest of a faction of the CIA in 1973, the year before he died, and continued to be employed by the CIA up to the time of his death. He had a good life with spacious homes in Manila and at Cabanatuan City, and kept a suite at the Manila Hilton. But he never bought Lear Jets, or Ferraris. He was unknown outside the Philippines, except to bankers and spooks, and was not prominent socially even in Manila. Nobody ever wrote an article about ‘Manila’s Mystery Billionaire’. His job was only one element in a very complex clandestine Cold War scenario.

 What happened inside the Philippines is easier to grasp. Some of Santy’s money helped get Ferdinand Marcos elected president. Marcos spent twenty years grooming himself for the post, and finally succeeded in 1965. Along the way, he did favors for the CIA and Pentagon during the expansion of the Indochina War. Marcos convinced the White House that he could help sell the Vietnam War to other Southeast Asian leaders by funneling bribes from Santy’s accounts at banks in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore and Sydney. These bribes were not in cash, which could be frittered away overnight, but in the form of derivatives including gold bearer certificates entitling the holder to interest on a large account. So long as the recipient behaved, he could continue to draw the interest. If he went sour, the certificate could be declared counterfeit. Once he was president, Marcos did support the American war in Indochina, but not for free. He traded public support of U.S. policy for America keeping him in Malacanang Palace. He remained a darling of the White House till he fell out with the Reagan Administration in 1986.

By the end of his first four-year term, he was getting terrible press. Imelda was mocked for blowing millions on weekend shopping sprees. In 1968, she spent $3.3million on a single weekend in New York City with her daughter Imee. At the same time she opened a big account at Citibank in Manhattan, where tax office documents show that Santy also had large cash and bullion accounts. There were rumors – later proved true – that the Marcoses were salting billions in foreign bank accounts, while the salary of a Philippine president was minimal.

Despite the bad press, in 1969 Marcos won another four-year term by stuffing ballot boxes. According to the Philippine constitution, he could not run for a third term. Unable to get the constitution revised, in 1972 Marcos and his defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, launched a phony campaign of ‘communist’ insurrection to justify declaring martial law, so they could stay in office. One of its highlights was the grenade attack at the Plaza Miranda, terrorizing the opposition party and silencing Roger Roxas.

Extraordinarily cunning, Marcos persuaded Santy to name him deputy director of The Umbrella. Fatigued by twenty-five years of doing the same thing over and over, Santy was beginning to drink heavily. He was losing control to Marcos, which depressed him. What tipped the scale in favor of Marcos was the fickle nature of new people rising to the top of the CIA hierarchy, men who did not share wartime experiences in the OSS, memories of the good old days as China Cowboys, or of the formative years of the postwar CIA when everybody was a Cold Warrior engaged in dirty tricks. The Old Guard knew Santy first-hand, and valued him. Marcos knew that some of Santy’s accounts had lain dormant for years, as new people in the CIA lost track. He leaned hard on Santy to transfer these dormant accounts to him. Marcos was particularly fixated on the Sandy Foundation. Physical violence always was implicit at Malacanang Palace. It was widely known that people had been tortured and murdered in a part of the palace called the Black Room. Anyone who crossed the president was murdered in grisly fashion, corpses left by the roadside with eyeballs plucked out, hanging on their stalks – the signature of General Ver. Worried, Santy began taking steps to protect himself, and to protect his personal accounts from seizure by presidential decree. Among the people he enlisted was a Filipina named Tarciana Rodriguez. He made her the official treasurer of all his shell companies, putting her in charge of billions in cash, bullion, gold certificates, stocks and other assets all over the world.

Later, when Tarciana came to his suite in the Manila Hilton as his chief accountant, she realized he was a significant figure in the financial world.  “It was in my mind then that he must be somebody because, to be billeted in a Five-star Hotel in the 70s was an indication of a symbol status of a person or VIP, especially he was only a Filipino. In my going to and fro to his hotel accommodation, what amazed me so much, there were many people of different nationalities who often visited him …bankers, brokers, business associates… he was a very famous personality especially to all the banks concerned throughout the world.” From then on, Tarciana did all the bookkeeping and secretarial chores for Santy’s shell companies. Although she never asked indiscreet questions, she was puzzled by his eccentric habits. If he could afford a year-round suite at the Hilton, just across the street from the CIA station in the Magsaysay Building, why did he dress in patched clothing? Then she discovered the patches were not covering holes. He was disguising himself to fool Manila Street toughs, who watched people come and go from the hotel.

After Marcos stole the Gold Buddha and had Roxas beaten to a pulp, Santy took Luz Rambano with him to open an account at the Manila branch of First National City Bank (now Citibank). According to her deposition: “$43-million U.S. dollars in cash was deposited in the presence of bank officer James J. Collins. The transaction was unusual in that the cash was in small denominations and it took six (6) days for bank personnel to count it.” Not something a banker would forget. When Luz later hired San Francisco attorney Mel Belli to sue Citibank and recover this and other money, “Collins had his deposition taken in New York City and denied that he was ever involved in establishing this account. Collins denied that the transaction ever took place, and stated that he did remember Santa Romana coming into the bank on one occasion in 1971 ‘talking about borrowing some money for some venture’.”

          What was Santy doing with $43-million in small bills? Being a rich eccentric, with fake patches, he may have kept money in wall safes in offices and homes all over the Philippines. It may also have been currency confiscated by the Japanese Army from Southeast Asian banks, which never got back to Tokyo. When Marcos scared him, he and Luz put it in laundry bags and took it to National City Bank. If they thought it was safe there, they had surprises in store. He also rented nine safety deposit boxes at the same bank, which Luz said he filled with cash and jewelry. According to a Marcos family source, just before martial law Santy transferred $800 million out of the Philippines, moving it from First National City Bank Manila to Citibank New York.   He did this none too soon. On February 27, 1973, Santy was brought to Malacanang Palace where, in the president’s private office, Marcos made him sign a typewritten ‘Will and Testament’.  This will was reluctantly signed by Santy and witnessed by his business partner , Although technically it made Julieta Huerto his sole legal heir, on his death Marcos easily could oblige her to appoint him administrator of the estate, so he could gain control of all Santy’s accounts.  

A few months later, in March 1973, Santy had another attack of nerves and moved $500-million from Manila to the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) central branch in Hong Kong .This sum, plus the $800-million transferred to Citibank New York, meant he had now moved $1.3-billion in cash out of Manila. During the same period, records show that he also moved 1,640 metric tons of gold to a Hong Kong bank that was later taken over by Japan’s Sanwa Bank. Soon afterward, on a trip to Tacloban on the island of Leyte, Santy drank too much and spoke too loudly of his fears, for he and Luz were arrested. Martial law allowed Marcos to arrest anyone. Tarciana received a long-distance call from Santy saying they were being held prisoner at Camp Bampus, an army base on the island. He told Tarciana they had been arrested for ‘rumor-mongering’ (talking about Marcos behind his back). He asked Tarciana to come to Leyte as soon as possible.  When she arrived, he told her to deliver a letter personally to the Citibank vice president, and gave her a safe-deposit box key. The letter to Collins authorized Tarciana to open his nine safe-deposit boxes. Box One held keys to the other eight. Box Two contained cash, from which Tarciana was to pay the box rental fees. Box Three contained jewelry, which he wanted her to bring. When Tarciana got to Citibank with the letter and key, she was told Collins was out of the country, and to come back some other time.

    Over the years, Santy had been protected by the CIA and by General Lansdale in particular. But in 1973 the Agency was in turmoil. A number of senior people were sacked, or resigned in disgust rather than be posted to remote backwaters. These men were now intent upon setting up their own private covert organization, or ‘shadow-CIA’. Where the CIA often was called The Company, the new shadow-CIA would be called The Enterprise. In the midst of this turmoil, Santy was invited to Washington as a private guest of the disaffected old guard, including Lansdale, Helliwell, Cline, and others. For over a month, they regaled him with stories about OSS days, about the fight against Mao and the escape to Taiwan, how they turned Claire Chennault’s Civil Air Transport (CAT) into Air America, and briefed Santy on CIA’s other black ops in Latin America, Africa, and behind the Iron Curtain. Each night he went back to the Mayflower Hotel and sat down with a tumbler and a bottle of Scotch, to make notes.

    In the notes, Santy describes in striking detail many of the CIA’s covert operations that did not become known to the American public until years later: How the CIA went about setting up proprietaries, like his own DNP Enterprises; how many of these companies were airlines and transport services, arms suppliers, or private mercenary forces, to support secret wars like the one in Angola. People, he said, were “paid pensions…to maintain silence”. He commented on the moral dilemma posed by many of the Agency’s operations.

           What the old guard wanted from Santy, now that they were setting up their own private CIA and private military forces, was access to some of the black bullion accounts that Washington had lost track of. They knew Santy also had a number of very large personal accounts that were dormant, and they wanted him to make these available. Pressed hard by Marcos, by the CIA, and by this new shadow-CIA, Santy decided to take further steps to protect himself and his assets.

     When he got back to the Philippines and had time to think it over, he phoned Tarciana on August 1, 1974, and asked her to come see him in Cavite City. When she arrived he gave her a document officially and formally appointing her National Treasurer of DNP Enterprises. He also gave her instructions about what to do with Santy’s accounts at Wells Fargo Bank and Hanover Bank. She asked why he had not chosen a more sophisticated person. He said, “You are the only person who can be trusted.” Santy was having a moral crisis.

          It was the rise of Ferdinand Marcos (saved from prison by Jose Laurel) that undercut Santy, took the Umbrella organization out of his hands, broke up his personal network, and turned Santy into an alcoholic. America was bogged down in Vietnam and anxious for the commitment of more Filipino troops. Marcos was already senate president, made all the right pro-American noises, and his campaign for the presidency was financed by the CIA, the Overseas Chinese, and lavish contributions from Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist regime in Taiwan. He won a landslide victory and entered Malacanang Palace on December 30, 1965.

Marcos had long known about Santy’s gold recoveries with Lansdale, and knew that Santy had hundreds of accounts in banks all over the world – many as a straw-man for the Vatican, the CIA, or the Black Eagle Trust. But Marcos also knew that Santy had personal accounts at Citibank and other banks in Manila and Hong Kong, where he salted gold for his own use.  Once Marcos became president, he went after Santy, forced him to sign over powers of attorney, and used extortion to deprive him of several large gold accounts, including all those at Manila banks that were vulnerable to pressure from Malacanang. All of Santy’s efforts to defend himself were failing, and in September 1974, driven into a deep alcoholic depression, he collapsed, was hospitalized, and several weeks later died at home with members of his family in Cabanatuan City. Marcos quickly looted Santy’s few remaining accounts in the Philippines, and went after others in New York, Hong Kong, and European capitals. Because he preferred a simple life, his assets grew until he had far more money than could ever be spent. A good man at heart, he became mellower as the years passed. The treachery and cruelty of Marcos had taken him by surprise. Then in Washington he had been confronted by old men he hardly knew, who regaled him with stories of assassinations, atrocities, political kidnappings, and grand deception that made a mockery of humanity.

 For them World War II had never ended. For the first time, Santy began thinking of himself as a paymaster for scoundrels and death squads, and it depressed him. At his bedside, he told Tarciana it was time to open the safe-deposit boxes. He gave her the insurance policies of all the trust certificates, and handed her a piece of paper about the color code, plus “many instructions, quotations and stories about his exploits and adventures of his life”. In this new will he mentions a number of ‘live’ (active) bank accounts at HSBC’s Hong Kong main branch, and others at Citibank Manila. He names fourteen people as beneficiaries of sums from several bank accounts. From numbered accounts at Citibank Manila he authorized distribution of over $65-million. From HSBC’s Hong Kong branch, he authorized distributions in excess of $200-million, and another in excess of $80million.

     Another $120-million at HSBC was set aside for ‘the people of Leyte’ and for ‘all the people I’ve forgotten to mention’. There were also distributions to be made from his personal account in the Citibank branch in the Philippine city of San Juan, of over $50-million, plus another 10-million in pesos. The beneficiaries include his two sons by his first marriage, Peter and Roy Diaz.  Santy died in September 1974.  The cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver.

     According to a knowledgeable source in the Marcos family, Major General Lansdale immediately arranged to move ‘all of Santy’s remaining gold bullion at Citibank Manila’ to Citibank’s main office in New York City. One motive certainly was to get the gold out of Manila before it could be expropriated by Marcos. With another wave of the magic wand, some of Santy’s big accounts at other banks, notably one at UBS Geneva said to contain 20,000 metric tons of gold and listing Santy as the holder of record, were changed to list Major General Lansdale as the holder of record. If Marcos thought Santy’s death would give him control of all those accounts, he was disappointed. His relationship with the CIA and the White House was becoming turbulent. He thought he could manipulate them. The White House and CIA thought they could manipulate him. They were both right, so long as there was more gold to recover, and Santy’s dormant accounts were there to fight over.

Pointing the Way

     When Santy died in 1974, magazines and newspapers already were calling President Marcos the richest man in Asia, with holdings estimated from $10-billion to $100-billion. Curiously, the source of his wealth could not be explained. With a grin, Marcos told people he had found Yamashita’s Gold.

They thought he was joking. But a number of people were shown around Marcos vaults stacked with gold bars, some with strange markings. Maybe it was not a joke. General John Singlaub, one of the original CIA Cold Warriors who knew all about Santy’s recoveries, added his assurance that “Marcos’s $12-billion fortune actually came from [Yamashita’s] treasure”.

      What greatly enlarged Ferdinand’s assets was the reappearance of Ben Valmores, the Filipino valet of Prince Takeda, present during the inventory and sealing of many Golden Lily vaults during the war. It was Ben that enabled a Marcos team to find and recover treasure from Teresa-2, from the sunken cruiser Nachi, and other sites. We last saw Ben in June 1945 at Tunnel-8, the underground complex near Bambang where 175 Japanese chief engineers were given a farewell drinking party before being buried alive.  At midnight, when General Yamashita and Prince Takeda (‘Kimsu’) were leaving the cavern, and dynamite charges were about to be set off, the prince refused to leave Ben inside. Over Yamashita’s angry protests, he took Ben to the surface and led him to safety. Moments later, a huge explosion shook the ground. “Kimsu had promised my papa that he would bring me home when the war was over,” Ben said. “So he would not let Yamashita leave me inside. When we were in front of my uncle’s house, Kimsu told me he was leaving that night to go back to Japan on a submarine. He gave me his sword, and his tunic. He said I must never change my character. Always obey my father. He thanked me for being loyal to him. Then he gave me his satchel of treasure maps and told me to bury it in a box in the ground, and one day he would come back for it.”

     The prince then vanished into the night. As instructed, Ben buried the satchel behind Uncle Lino’s house, inside a stout wooden box. General Yamashita surrendered to the U.S. Army three months later.

Many years passed before Ben dug up the satchel. In the meantime the roads around Dulao and Bambang were full of American soldiers. Ben befriended them, and was given a job working in a field kitchen. He sold the GIs rusty Japanese swords and campaign medals. Once he hitched a carabao to an abandoned Japanese Army truck, one of many hidden in the forest near Indiana barrio, and pulled it to Dulao where he sold it to some GIs for $5. He sold fifteen trucks in all. In those days, you could get a full meal of rice and pork for only five cents. To provide for Ben’s future, the prince had buried two large steel trunks full of gold ingots. It had taken five carabao and fifteen soldiers to drag each trunk into the pit under a giant mango tree near Pingkian Bridge. Takeda had told him, when the war was over Ben must dig up the boxes, buy a large ranch, marry the pretty girl who had caught their eye in Dulao, and raise lots of children. But until the American soldiers left, Ben was afraid to go near the bridge.

     When he finally went back in 1999 with a friend, they discovered that a huge typhoon had caused flash floods that swept away the Pingkian Bridge and the entire embankment where the two trunks were buried. Even the big mango tree was gone. Each of the trunks had weighed over one ton, worth millions of dollars. Now they were on the bottom of the Pingkian River, buried in the muck – so much for the ranch. The pretty girl Kimsu fancied married somebody else. But Ben did marry and had children.

When that first marriage ended, he married again and had two daughters, of whom he was very fond.

Twenty years after the war, Ben was still a poor rice farmer. The maps Kimsu had given him were still buried behind the house. Ben had dug up the satchel several times to look for a map simple enough to decipher himself. They made no sense to him, so he put the maps back and re-buried the satchel, only keeping out a compass and magnifying glass. Among treasure hunters it was common knowledge that such maps existed. Ben was the only one present at all 175 ‘imperial’ sites, and he stayed poor.

Once he dug up a small gold Buddha, four inches tall. He could have bought a small ranch, but he did not know its value and traded it for a radio. He was just twenty-two years old then. He remained a humble, good-natured man, affectionate to his wife and children, kind, and quick to laugh.

   Only in the mid-1960s, when Ferdinand Marcos began making onshore and offshore recovery deals with the Japanese, was official hostility relaxed, and Japanese began coming back to the Philippines in significant numbers to hunt for treasure. At the end of 1968, President Marcos sent a team to Tokyo to make a deal for more effective joint recoveries. The team included Lieutenant Colonel Florentino Villacrusis, a senior intelligence officer; Brigadier General Ramos, comptroller of the Philippine armed forces; and two other officers. Their mission was to acquire a set of Golden Lily treasure maps in return for a share to Japan of whatever Marcos recovered. If Tokyo did not cooperate, Marcos warned that he would close down Japanese companies all over the islands.

    In his first two years as president, Marcos had authorized offshore recoveries by a syndicate of Japanese and Korean gangsters, headed by Kodama and Machii Hisayuki, head of the Tosei-kai. Another partner was billionaire fixer Sasakawa Ryoichi, another of Kodama’s Sugamo Prison cellmates. When the Villacrusis team arrived in Tokyo in 1968, Kodama and Sasakawa told them that the head of Golden Lily, Prince Chichibu, had died of tuberculosis in the early 1950s. But they arranged for Villacrusis to have a private audience with another aristocrat who had worked for Prince Chichibu. According to members of the Villacrusis family, this was “a ranking Japanese officer who was a cousin of Emperor Hirohito”. This shadowy figure, high up in Japan’s intelligence services, told Ramos and Villacrusis that the Japanese had hidden over $100-billion worth of treasure in the Philippines and it would take ‘more than a century’ to recover it all.

    In Tokyo twenty-five years later, in 1968, Lord Ichivara told Colonel Villacrusis that the best way to recover a full set of the Golden Lily treasure maps for President Marcos would be by finding  Ben Valmores, the wartime valet of Prince Takeda. The prince, he explained, had left a whole set of maps with Ben at the end of the war, in the event that the submarine taking him back to Japan was sunk. Finding Ben Valmores, he said, would not be difficult. He had seen Ben many times during the war, accompanying his prince, who had been based most of the time in the barrio of San Fernando, outside Bambang, and Ben’s family had lived somewhere nearby. The Marcos team eventually found Ben, and as usual, threatened him. Finally, Ben decided on a compromise to protect his family.

    Early one morning, he dug up the satchel again. First he set aside the blue series maps, which were the engineering drawings. He wrapped these in plastic, placed them in a strong box and immediately reburied them. Next he studied the red series maps. There were 175 red series maps in all. Ben set aside his three favorite sites for himself. These were the maps of Tunnel-8 and Tunnel-9, near Bambang, and Montalban east of Manila. The red series maps were on sheets of stout paper, heavily waxed after the drawings were finished. They provided a 3-dimensional view of the terrain. Of the remaining 172 red series maps, Ben selected forty that he thought were minor, or very difficult. If he was pressed, and his family was in peril, he could give this bundle of forty to Giga to take to Marcos.  A few days later, Colonel Villacrusis himself came to Ben’s house, banging on the door in the middle of the night, yelling: “Ben, Ben!”  Ben let him in. Villacrusis said he was on a special mission for the president, to get the maps.  So, Ben took the maps (40 of them) and went with the colonel to Manila. And they made a call to Tokyo, where Prince Takeda, himself, spoke to Ben.  The other cronies of Marcos were listening in. When the call ended, it was confirmation – this was the right Ben. They decided not to take him to Marcos, now that (as Mrs. Ramos said) they had the key. After all their posturing, Villacrusis, Ramos and gang never did show a single one of the red series maps to Marcos. When they left the  hilltop hideaway, Villacrusis kept the bundle of forty maps to study, giving Ben the empty old leather folder. He also gave Ben some travel money.  Thankful to be alive, Ben fled back to Bambang.

   In this clumsy, oafish, bullying manner began the big Marcos gold recoveries of the 1970s and early 1980s. Equipped for the first time with real Golden Lily maps, which none of them could understand, Marcos and his lieutenants thought it would be easy. They were wrong.

   Initially, Villacrusis was successful in excavating a site at Santa Mesa Rotunda, where he recovered a mixed variety of gold bars from various Asian countries, and a number of small solid gold Buddhas looted from temples and pagodas. Encouraged, President Marcos put together a special unit of army engineers and set them to work digging at a site in Laguna, where they uncovered several concrete vaults filled with gold bars.  Marcos’s first really big recovery as president was from a Golden Lily vault beneath the flagpole at Camp Aguinaldo. Next, Marcos sent his soldiers to the officers’ club at Fort Bonafacio – previously called Ft. McKinley – where he had them dig down to General MacArthur’s bomb shelter. There they discovered one end of the 56 –kilometers of tunnels under Manila. After two years of exploring these tunnels, they found only one gold bar in the back of an abandoned army truck. The spur tunnels and treasure vaults hidden by Golden Lily were too well disguised.

    For Ben, who knew where all the gold vaults were, life in Dulao and Bambang continued in its cyclic pattern of wet rice planting and harvest. The one exception was when Ben became friends with Roger Roxas, the Baguio locksmith who came to Bambang periodically to hunt for buried loot. Over the years Roxas and Ben became friends, and one day Ben agreed to give Roxas a Golden Lily map showing the location of the warren of tunnels behind the Baguio hospital. When Roxas discovered the Gold Buddha, he also found a magnificent gold model of the famous Cathedral of Reims, in France, and gave it to Ben as his share in the recovery. The cathedral was nearly half a meter tall.  Nobody knew its provenance, except that it came from Vietnam. Such treasures have their own secret lives. When he saw what then happened to Roxas and the Gold Buddha, Ben re-buried the cathedral in a box in the yard of his house in Dulao. Later, when General Fabian Ver heard that Ben had recovered a solid gold cathedral, Ver sent thugs to Ben’s house and threatened to terrorize his wife and children if Ben did not give it to them. Ben complied. Ten years later the only thing Ben still possessed, given to him by Kimsu, was a Japanese campaign medal, showing an airplane, carabao, thatch hut, coconut tree and paddy field. Everything else had been stolen, ‘confiscated’ or lost. “All they ever gave me,” Ben said about Marcos and his cronies, “was cigarettes.” Children were born, treasure hunters came and went, Ben remained poor.

    In 1972 Ben heard that a group of Japanese had arrived in Bambang, and were working with bulldozers and backhoes in the area where General Yamashita’s camp had been, more than half a mile from Kimsu’s camp at San Fernando. Ben laughed that they were digging in the wrong place. He was mistaken. When Ben had toured the underground complex with Kimsu, they had gone down through the Tunnel-8 entrance, which Ben thought was the only one. He did not know there was a separate entrance for Tunnel-9. In 1945, the connecting tunnels were blown up, but the main vaults, lined with steel-reinforced concrete, were intact. These Japanese re-opened the Tunnel-9 entrance, leading down to Yamashita’s bomb-proof command center. In daylight hours they stayed out of sight below-ground. A neighboring farmer said that at night empty trucks arrived that left loaded before dawn. With Marcos making moves on other Golden Lily sites, Prince Takeda may have authorized the recovery of part of the Bambang complex.

     It is unlikely that they recovered all, because that would have involved re-opening the connecting tunnels to Tunnel-8 and the Cemetery site and by 1974,  the Tunnel-9 recovery was complete.

    Since leaving Ben and returning to Japan by submarine in June 1945, Takeda had been warmly received by his cousin Hirohito for having successfully completed his mission. He was then sent to Manchuria as chief financial officer of the Imperial Army there for the last months of the war. At war’s end, he was given the assignment of ensuring that the Kwantung Army in Manchuria complied with Hirohito’s order to surrender. After that, Takeda went home to his wife and children in Tokyo.

     When the peerage system was ended, Takeda forfeited his hereditary title and became simply Mister Takeda Tsuneyoshi. Like other former princes, to avoid having his properties seized by the Allies, Takeda sold his estates to the wealthy Tsutsumi family, to whom he remained closely allied for the rest of his life. He kept only one estate, a sprawling ranch in Chiba Prefecture on the eastern side of Tokyo Bay.

Money was never a problem. After all, he had helped enrich the entire Japanese establishment, a debt that could never be repaid. Ben stayed poor.

     Already a billionaire with his own tropical paradise, Marcos had a pathological streak – too much was never enough. He wanted everyone to know he was as rich as the Rothschilds, Saudis, and Oppenheimers. This would do him in. He knew the Japanese were ripping him off, steering him away from big vaults. Without their help, recovering the best Golden Lily sites was difficult. Even with true maps and an eyewitness like Ben Valmores, you could not just pick a spot and start digging. Ben could take you there, but he knew nothing of the underground configuration. Even above ground, Ben could not be precise; trees had toppled, rivers changed course, new construction obliterated landmarks. If you missed by a few inches, months were wasted. Marcos decided to bring in a famous psychic and a clever mining expert. The mining expert would reverse-engineer Ben’s maps, and the psychic could determine the precise position of the gold. Once their jobs were done, they could be eliminated.

Enter Robert Curtiss

    Marketing the gold was another headache. By 1974, it was legal for the first time since 1933 for private American citizens to purchase gold. Accordingly, world gold prices started to rise. This put Marcos in an enviable ‘long position’ with a lot of gold to sell – if he could get the gold into the market. But the bars he recovered were not standard in size, purity, or hallmark, and had no legalizing paper trail. Aside from black-market deals where anything goes, gold normally is traded in standard size, weight and purity acceptable to the London gold market. Legitimate gold bars must have recognized hallmarks and identification numbers. They must be accompanied by proof of ownership, called a statement of origin, with a paper trail showing the record of transportation, security, insurance, and so forth.

      Almost all the treasure stolen by Golden Lily did not meet London standard. It came from Asian countries where gold was of inconsistent purity, usually 22 karats or less, not only from banks and treasuries but from the hoards of Overseas Chinese tycoons, Malay Muslim datos, Buddhist sects, drug-lords, triads, gangsters, ancient tombs, jewelry and artifacts. Ingots were all shapes and sizes, marked with odd signs and symbols, stamped or engraved in different languages. Each contained minerals and impurities, like a fingerprint, so an assay would reveal where it had been mined. At the end of World War II in Europe, the Allies got around this problem by re-smelting Nazi gold, erasing the fingerprint and any trace of ownership. In the past, Marcos had avoided this problem by marketing the gold he recovered through the Japanese, or the CIA. Both would take irregular ingots, but only at a deep discount. In effect, the CIA would pay Marcos a finder’s fee, as they had paid Santa Romana during his time as gatekeeper. Marcos tried black-market deals, swapping non-standard gold to Panama for cocaine, and to Thai drug-lords for heroin, but that created marketing headaches of another kind, when he had to find buyers for the narcotics. If he was going to bypass the CIA and the Japanese and sell his gold on the world market, it had to be physically altered – a process called sanctifying – to conform to London gold standard. A member of the Gold Cartel would only do this for him at a deep discount, so Marcos had to find a private individual who could sanctify the gold and add the right impurities to prove it was legitimate gold from Philippine mines.

One possibility was a mining expert and metallurgist in Nevada named Robert Curtis. Meanwhile, late in 1974, Robert Curtis received the first of a number of calls from Norman Kirst, phoning from the Philippines. Curtis was the 44-year-old owner of a successful mining and refining business in Sparks, Nevada, near Reno. Starting out as a banker in San Francisco, he became fascinated by old silver and gold mines along the California-Nevada border. He acquired a number of these old mines, and built a factory in Sparks where he reprocessed the ore and developed new techniques to extract more gold, and other precious metals such as platinum and iridium. Most people did not know there was platinum to be mined in America, because the Gold Cartel discouraged hunting for platinum in order to control quantities and prices of the metal from its own mines in Africa. But Curtis independently developed processes to extract platinum from the ore he was recovering in the Sierras. This made him a modestly wealthy man.

     Norman Kirst asked Bob Curtis if he would fly out to Manila to discuss setting up a refinery for President Marcos. He explained that Marcos wanted Curtis to re-smelt gold bars, change the hallmarks to Philippine official numbers and stamps, and alter the chemical composition so the gold would appear to have come from Philippine mines. What was staggering to Curtis was the amount of gold mentioned. Kirst said Marcos was hoping to process at least 300 metric tons of gold a year for the next ten years, or some 3,000 metric tons, for starters. Thinking it over, Curtis did some homework. Historically, there was no way to account for so much gold coming from Philippine mines. In 1939 those mines produced their greatest quantity ever, one million troy ounces, or just over thirty-one metric tons. In the 1970s the Philippines were producing only 22 metric tons of gold each year. Because gold mine operations in the islands were sluggish and inefficient, it would be difficult to explain a sudden ten-fold jump in annual production. However, with a little patience, Marcos could slip small quantities into the market over a period of time. If the ingots were sanctified, he could sell them readily to private buyers.

         After turning Kirst down several times, Curtis changed his mind when he got a long letter from him on February 22, 1975, revealing that the real source of the gold was Japanese loot. Kirst said:

“There is a buried treasure on [American] Embassy grounds, Clark Air Force Base, Subic Naval Base … there are exactly 34 locations of major importance and 138 locations of lesser importance but wish to only work on the 34 [major] locations, knowing that if they retrieve several of the 34 sites they will have done an excellent job.” Curtis recalls: “I was incredulous. I had every reason not to believe in the treasure.” When he arrived at the end of February 1975, Curtis was met by Kirst and introduced to Marcos aides and associates, including General Fabian Ver. They were so friendly he had no way of knowing that half of them, including Ver, were professional killers. That would come later.

    Next, Curtis was taken by General Ver to a large room in the basement, to examine rows and rows of gold bars. On their return, Marcos stood on the terrace and pointed to the hill behind the summer palace. He said he wanted Curtis to design underground vaults for that hill, each 80 feet wide and the length of a football field, where Marcos could store between 200,000 metric tons and 500,000 metric tons of bullion. He said the vaults he was using in Manila were already overflowing. Again Curtis was astonished by the quantities Marcos mentioned, many times the amount of refined gold commonly thought to be in existence. But he had seen enough to convince him that the myth of gold being scarce was just like the myth of diamonds being scarce – to keep prices high. On March 25, 1975, Curtis signed the contract in return for a share of the gold recovered “on Philippine land and waters”. As part of his participation, Curtis would provide two smelters from his Nevada factory. These would be shipped to Manila.

While Curtis was in Manila during the first trip, Marcos put Olof Jonsson( a psychic) to the test. General Ver took Jonsson and Curtis on a coast guard PT boat to the sector of Manila Bay where the Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi was sunk on November 5, 1944, to see if Jonsson could find it. The official U.S. Navy report affirms that it was sunk in Manila Bay on November 5, 1944, but attributes the sinking to Allied aircraft. A Golden Lily map left with Ben Valmores showed the location of the hulk, and the precise nature of the treasure on board, but Marcos divers had not been able to find it in the murky water. Olof Jonsson was expected to find it with his psychic powers. Tension surrounded this effort to pinpoint the Nachi, because Japanese divers also were searching for it. Marcos earlier had granted permits to Japanese salvage companies, but he did not want them diving on

    As if Tokyo knew what was going on, Japan’s prime minister chose this very moment to pay an informal visit to Marcos, bringing with him a delegation of relatives of the Nachi crew, including the widow of the ship’s commander, Captain Kanooka Enpei. Saying they hoped to recover the human remains, the prime minister requested permission for Japanese salvage teams to search for bodies from the Nachi, and also to search for approximately four hundred other Japanese ships sunk in Philippine waters. Marcos refused. The divers went down again and surfaced in minutes to shout that Jonsson had found the Nachi. Now that he knew exactly where the Nachi was, Marcos had no intention of sharing the recovery with anyone. He told Curtis and Jonsson to forget the ship and turn their attention instead to the most promising on-shore treasure sites. The 3,000 tons of gold Marcos recovered from the Nachi was worth $6-billion in 1975, when gold was selling at $65 an ounce.

    Each night he returned to the Philippine Village Hotel, a four-star hotel near Manila airport, where he shared a penthouse with John and Marcella MacAllaster, Wes Chapman, and Olof Jonsson.

When he was not visiting sites with Ben, Curtis spent most of his time in the penthouse studying the maps, finding the fulcrum points and trying to crack the codes. Each map was a riddle. With so many field trips during the day, Curtis had less and less time to linger over the maps, and no way to be sure they would not be taken away from him. So he photographed all 172 — taking first Polaroid, then 35 mm. It was a spur-of-the moment decision that would save his life, and that of John MacAllaster. Next day, Curtis recommended to Marcos that they tackle Teresa-2. According to Ben’s maps, this was a big one. An army team sent by Marcos had already tried and failed to excavate Teresa-1. Both Teresa-1 and Teresa-2 were by an army base at a barrio called Teresa, a sleepy provincial town in Rizal, southeast of Manila. Here was an elaborate tunnel complex carved out of a limestone hill shaped like a sugarloaf, holding billions of dollars’ worth of gold, platinum, diamonds, and three solid-gold Buddhas. Teresa was dug in 1943 by some 2,000 American, Australian, Dutch and Filipino prisoners of war.

   During the war, there were six excavation teams here, each with 200 POWs, working around the clock from different starting points

      Meanwhile, convoys of Japanese Army trucks made their way to Teresa from Manila Bay warehouses, carrying gold bullion, oil drums of gems, and the three solid gold Buddhas — one three feet tall, one eight feet tall, and one thirteen feet tall. According to plan the treasure was dispersed in various parts of the complex. In Teresa 1 and 2 there were six locations for the gold bars. Two smaller lots of gold were placed in pits dug in the floor, like the pit discovered by Roger Roxas. Other spaces were filled with drums of mixed gems or diamonds. Over many days, bronze boxes of gold were carried into the tunnels and placed in designated locations. All these areas were then backfilled with dirt carried in wicker baskets by the POWs. Next the two smaller gold Buddhas were pushed into the tunnels using a bulldozer. Each Buddha was shoved into position on top of a slab of plate steel, resting on top of a 1,000-pound bomb that had its nose sticking out one side. Once the trigger mechanism was primed, the bomb would explode if anybody disturbed the Buddha. The third Buddha, thirteen feet tall, was so heavy that two bulldozers had to be used to get it into the tunnel, one pulling while another pushed. When the Buddha was in place, the bulldozer that had pulled could not leave. So the Japanese removed its engine, putting two boxes of gold bars in its place, then drained the fuel tank, and filled it with loose gems. When this was done, a final convoy of trucks arrived at Teresa. These 23 trucks were driven straight into the remaining space in the carabao horns. The tires were deflated and the vehicles, weighted down with gold, sank to their hubs. A Shinto priest came to bless the treasure. All POWs were ordered into the tunnels, on the pretext that they were to unload the trucks. When all 1,200 were inside, bulldozers began shoving earth over the last entrance. As the POWs realized they were to be buried alive, they started yelling and running for the entrance. Machine guns already positioned at each entrance shot them down. Once the first ranks died, others half-dead from starvation and overwork did not have the strength to get past the bodies blocking their way or to climb over the mound of dirt already shoved in by the bulldozers. They kept yelling and clawing at the barricade of dirt and bodies as they were entombed. This entrance was then sealed with the special ceramic cement, booby-trapped with 1,000- pound bombs and small glass vials of cyanide. Finally, the Japanese closed the three airshafts over Teresa-1 and the three over Teresa-2.

Recovery was near. Well in advance, Curtis had sent Marcos a memo about security precautions, and how treasure recovered from Teresa-2 should be removed. As it came out of the tunnels, he proposed that it should be inventoried by five men, including Curtis, Villacrusis, and Ver’s deputy, Colonel Mario Lachica. Then it should be placed in numbered containers. Curtis suggested that the loose jewels be stored in the National Defense Command. Artifacts could be sent to a bonded warehouse along with foreign currency and all paper money that was no longer in circulation. “The heavy inventory [gold bullion] would best be stored at or near the laundering facility so that military escorts will not be necessary to move the material to and from the laundering equipment.” Marcos had told Curtis that when the three Buddhas were recovered, they must be cut into pieces and re-smelted. Otherwise, they might be identified.

By this time, Olf Jonson got the feeling that Marcos wanted to kill them, after Teresa-2 was opened. He wanted to leave Manila that night. Curtis reminded him that with martial law in effect, there was no way he could get the necessary exit permit and still make that day’s flight to Hawaii. Olof was not dissuaded. He left immediately for the airport. “I still do not know how Olof made that airplane.” Curtis told us. “The flight was delayed for three hours. When I asked him later if he had influenced that delay with his psychic powers, Olof would only smile.” Within a few days, the excavation team opened up Teresa-2.

    Curtis and MacAllaster remained elated. They knew they had hit the fender of one of the 23 military trucks loaded with gold bars. They were going to be very rich. “We thought we were all going to celebrate at Malacanang Palace with the President,” Curtis said. It seemed a shame that Olof would miss the festivities.

    That afternoon, as promised, a car came to pick up Curtis and MacAllaster. Instead of taking them to Malacanang Palace, it took them to the American war cemetery at Ft. Bonafacio. Colonel Lachica was waiting for them, sitting in a jeep with Major Olivas. He was holding a .45 caliber automatic, Olivas a .38 caliber revolver. Lachica ordered Curtis out of the car and took him into a patch of rhododendron. Olivas led MacAllaster to another cluster of rhododendron. Behind the bushes, Lachica motioned for Curtis to look down — there was a freshly dug grave three feet deep. Curtis reminded these killers about having photographed the maps, and that he had them sent over to the States, and all the original maps were burnt by Curtis. After making a call to Marcos, they were told not to kill Curtis. They had narrowly escaped having their heads blown off. He now understood Olof’s terrible premonition. Marcos would not hesitate to have them killed once he regained possession of the maps.In fact, the maps were there in the penthouse the whole time, and Curtis was astonished that Ver’s men did not find them during their search.

    Weeks earlier, Curtis had been confronted by the problem of what to do with the 172 waxed maps while he was away working at Teresa-2. Each map was priceless and irreplaceable. From then on he kept the original maps there around the clock, only taking out the ones that currently interested him.

     Now, after his near-death experience in the American cemetery, Curtis realized that Ver soon would have a more thorough search made of their rooms. He took the maps out of their hiding place and roused John MacAllaster. “Forget the treasure,” he told MacAllaster, “let’s save our lives.” The only way to do that, Curtis explained, was to destroy the maps. If the maps were found, they would be murdered. So long as Marcos and Ver were unable to find them, they would assume that Curtis had hidden them, and avoid doing anything to risk losing the maps. Curtis explained to MacAllaster that he had photographs of the maps, showing all details, and had sent these already to Nevada. He knew they had arrived safely. So the original maps no longer were absolutely necessary. Once the maps were destroyed, they still needed an exit visa to get out of the Philippines. That had to come directly from Ver or Marcos. Curtis and the MacAllasters received their exit permits at the hotel immediately.

     From one of Ver’s officers, Colonel Orlando Dulay, Curtis learned later that Marcos proceeded with the Teresa-2 recovery, but only recovered the gold bullion from the army trucks. He then ordered the main air duct closed. He did not recover the oil drums of diamonds and loose gemstones, nor did he try to recover the three solid gold Buddhas. According to Dulay, the gold was trucked from Teresa to a private home owned by Marcos in the town of San Juan where it was assayed and inventoried.

     Dulay said the gold bullion in the trucks totaled 22,000 metric tons, while a member of the Marcos family who helped inventory the gold bullion said it was 20,000 metric tons. In either case, they said this put the value of the gold in mid-1975 at around $8-billion, give or take a few million in change.

Add this $8billion in gold from Teresa-2 to the $6-billion in gold from the Nachi and in a matter of six months Marcos had been enriched by around $14-billion, thanks chiefly to the efforts of Olof Jonsson, Robert Curtis, and Ben Valmores. But during the next five years gold prices shot up to over $800 an ounce, making the Marcos hoard worth about fifteen times as much.

     Curtis told us that while he was working on Teresa-2, the Gold Cartel had approached Marcos with a Mafia-type offer – “either kill Curtis and let the Cartel do the business of [gold] distribution, or he [Marcos] would be in trouble”. By Gold Cartel, he meant the alliance of prime banks, gold processing companies, and national treasuries (including the Federal Reserve and Bank of England) that dominate the official world gold market. While it is impossible to document what Curtis said in this instance, it is supported by subsequent events. His smelters and gold-sanctifying function in Manila were taken over by a member of the Cartel called Johnson-Matthey Chemicals, part of Johnson-Matthey Bank (JMB), one of England’s gold banks. A few years later, after a number of scandals provoked by what brokers in the City of London called ‘Marcos Black Eagle deals’, JMB collapsed and was absorbed by the Bank of England.  Through an intermediary, Curtis offered to return the copies to Marcos one by one, in exchange for installments of the money owed to him under the agreement. In October 1980, Marcos replied, offering to buy back all the maps by sending Curtis $5-billion in gold, as full payment of his share. The gold would be flown directly from Manila to the airport at Reno, Nevada. By state law, Nevada is a free port, so gold and other imports can be brought in without taxes. That October, the loaded planes took off from Manila. Half way across the Pacific, Marcos abruptly diverted them to Zurich. According to Philippine ambassador Trinidad Alconcel, who cleared the flight in Washington, Marcos was warned by his future son-in-law Gregory Araneta, by General Ver, and by his friend Adnan Khashoggi(uncle of Jamal Kashoggji –who acquired fame as a “victim” of Saudi Crown Prince MBS, in Istanbul, in 2018), that he was making a big mistake. If he paid the $5-billion, Curtis would have proof that he was telling the truth all along.

The story continues in Part 4,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Posts by Month