‘Treasure ship’ claim raises eyebrows in South Korea

This handout photo shows an underwater wreckage, claimed by South Korea's Shinil Group to be the Russian battleship Dmitri Donskoii which sank in 1905 off Ulleung Island, South Korea. This photo was distributed on July 17, 2018. Yonhap/via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) – A company claiming to have found the wreck of a Russian warship with $130 billion in gold “treasure” off the coast of South Korea has drawn scepticism from researchers and regulators in Seoul.

Shinil Group, which lists a Singapore address on its website, said on Tuesday it had discovered the wreck of the Dmitrii Donskoi, a Russian armored cruiser built in the 1880s and sunk in 1905 after battling Japanese warships.

The company said the ship held 150 trillion won ($130 billion) in gold and it would provide evidence next week to support its claims.

Shinil Group representatives did not respond to requests for comment, but its news release said the company was the “only entity in the world” to have discovered the ship.

The release was accompanied by photos and video of a wreck, including a section that appeared to show the ship’s name. It said the search team included experts from Britain, Canada and South Korea.

The announcement was disputed by the government-run Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, which told South Korean media that it discovered the wreck in 2003.

The institute did not respond to a request for comment, but its website showed photos dated from 2007 of what it said was the wreck, along with maps of its general location.

A South Korean construction company has also laid claim to being the first to discover the Russian warship, South Korean media said.

Some academics have cast doubt on past reports of a massive treasure on the ship. South Korean financial regulators also cautioned against investing in treasure hunting ventures.

In a separate statement on its website, Shinil Group described its newly launched “Donskoi International” crypto currency exchange as linked to the find.

The company said it would “share profits” from the Russian wreck with the public by handing out its virtual currency to anyone who signed up to use the exchange. It promised additional coins to those who helped sign up others.

Shinil Group’s English website was registered in January, according to the Whois internet domain registry, and has many sections marked “under construction”.

South Korea’s Financial Supervisory Services on Wednesday warned against “overheated” investment, citing past cases of treasure-hunting companies that saw their stock skyrocket after a discovery only to end up filing for bankruptcy.

“Investors need to be cautious as it’s possible they could suffer massive losses if they bank on rumors without concrete facts regarding the recovery of a treasure ship,” the regulator said in a statement.

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