Thaksin’s Quest for Gold

Every few years someone claims to have found the elusive treasure that the Japanese supposedly buried in Kanchanaburi during World War II. These "finds" often occur during economic downturns and the local press is usually more interested in reporting how this gold will wipe away Thai debt or solve financial woes than actually wanting to see the gold itself. The treasure always turns out to be imaginary--the result of our collective urban myth-making culture. It is belief stoked by publicity-seekers, a careless press, and a desire that there be some quick fix to solve economic problems.

Right now, we are in the grips of gold fever once again. The new Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited a cave site where the gold was supposed to be and spoke favorably about the claim. CNN got into the act as well, reporting the gold find as fact and noting how it could help solve current Thai woes. However, the story on their website has a different tone, noting the many similar hoaxes that crop up now and then.

The treasure has yet to seen, and latest reports indicate that it actually consists of 100-million-dollar gold bonds from the US which the Japanese were hoarding. There are articles about the "treasure" in the April 15 and 16 editions of the Bangkok Post and the Nation, but since the links to these articles will change after a few days, we cannot link directly to them (if you want to read the articles, go to the newspapers' main page and then find the editions for April 15 and 16, 2001).


Thai senator lifts lid on treasure trove - CNN, April 16, 2001
...Senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri says the riches, rumored to be worth billions of dollars, were found Friday in a cave close to the border with Myanmar after a five-year long search.
...Chaowarin has made such claims before, in 1995, triggering a mini gold rush to the area. But despite extensive searches no buried treasure was found...


Updates

Thai treasure cove a hoax: officials - CNN, April 17, 2001
...Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has called for a halt to digging at a cave near the border with Myanmar, where the treasure was supposed to be hidden.
He's hoping that a satellite owned by friends in the U.S. can detect whether the treasure exists when it passes over the site later this week.
...The Prime Minister took the story seriously enough to fly to the site by helicopter last Friday...


April 18, 2001 - The story has already broken down: No treasure in Thai cave leaves premier red-faced

Four arrested over Thai treasure hoax - CNN, April 20, 2001
...Police arrested four men over the treasure scam, which has embarrassed the nation and badly dented the government's credibility, after the men tried to sell fake U.S. bonds with a face value of $24.7 billion to Payap Shinawatra -- brother of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
...Meanwhile, members of Thailand's parliament expressed suspicions that Thaksin had given credence to Chaowarin's claims his because he saw them as a good diversion charges of wealth concealment against him that are being heard by Thailand's Constitutional Court...


April 20, 2001 - The Nation has an interesting article on gold bond scammers in Thailand. Maybe this article should have been run when this story first broke. (April 29, 2001 - The link to this article has changed three times since its publication. It seems local newspapers are determined not to have their articles linked to... although it is more likely they do not understand how newspaper articles are typically accessed by viewers on the web.)
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