Where in Siberia is the
Last Tsar of Russia's 'Missing' Gold?

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The leader of this venture Bair Tsyrenov told The Siberian Times: 'Following the discovery of the fragments of metal structures, similar to the frame of a railway bridge, at a depth of nearly 1,000 metres, Mir-2 began to rise on the slope covered with rocks. On this slope we discovered four bars with a distinctive golden glow, that were caught in a crevice on the sloping mass of rocks'

This year sees the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanov, the Russian royal family thrown on the scrapheap of history in 1917 as the Bolsheviks loomed.

The following year Nicholas II and his close family were shot by a firing squad in Yekaterinburg, but an intriguing mystery remains in Siberia over the whereabouts of 'hidden' or 'lost' Tsar's gold with claims it could be worth $80 billion at today's prices.

Across Siberia, groups of intrepid searchers have not given up hope of finding this treasure, convinced that it never fell into the hands of the Soviet authorities, and hoping this will be the lucky year for the royal gold rush.

'I am convinced that at least some of the tsar's gold remains in Siberia and I continue to hunt for it,' said one involved in a secretive bid to crack this historical mystery over the Romanov bullion.

'I will not divulge the locations I am searching but modern technology makes it more likely than ever before to be able to find the gold stashed beneath the surface'.

Here the Siberian Times reveals the main theories concerning the royal booty, which after the revolution was controlled by Admiral Alexander Kolchak, leader of the White Russian forces which for a time defied the advance of the Communist forces following the collapse of the old order in the country.

Grainy pictures from the vaults of a Kazan bank highlight that gold and other other precious metals of untold value were held here. Picture: The Siberian Times

Not in dispute is that as Russia descended into chaos during the First World War, treasures were shifted in 1915 from the capital city of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) to Kazan, east of Moscow, and later controlled by anti-Bolshevik forces, for safe-keeping.

In the months leading up to July 1918, when abdicated ruler Nicholas II and his family were shot on Lenin's orders, it is estimated that 73 per cent of the world's largest gold reserves were held in this Tatar city on the Volga River before most was shifted further east into Siberia.

Grainy pictures from the vaults of a Kazan bank highlight that gold and other other precious metals of untold value were held here.

One of Britain's most legendary spies, Sidney Reilly, and the colourful, womanising diplomat, Robert Bruce Lockhart, who with his lover Baroness Moura Budberg, Russia's 'Mata Hari', was accused of plotting to assassinate Lenin, were directly involved in this operation to prevent the gold falling into Communist hands.

It is also known that some of these riches were used by Kolchak to buy Western assistance in what soon amounted to a failed campaign to resist the might of Lenin's forces. Peristent reports suggest that much of the gold remained. One theory, examined more below, suggest that a hoard of gold remains buried to this day in forests on the edge of Kazan.

Other theories pinpoint five Siberian locations where gold from the royal vaults was secretly stashed - or lost.

Across Siberia, groups of intrepid searchers have not given up hope of finding this treasure, convinced that it never fell into the hands of the Soviet authorities, and hoping this will be the lucky year for the royal gold rush. Picture: The Siberian Times

Again not in dispute, as the Reds surged east, is that much gold was removed to Omsk in Siberia by train on 13 October 1918.

One month later Kolchak was proclaimed Supreme Ruler of the country and Omsk was briefly the capital city of anti-Bolshevik Russia.

Here by the Irtysh River, Kolchak had his headquarters and the city's central bank was also entrusted with the Imperial government's gold reserves.

The gold was guarded by a garrison of Czechoslovakian soldiers loyal to Kolchak who had been trapped in Siberia by the war and revolution.

Some Omsk historians, notably Alexander Kuzhelev have claimed that a portion of this treasure remains hidden in labyrinthine secret chambers and old long-buried underground dungeons under the city, located from this bank.

'The retreating Admiral did not trust his foreign allies and the Czechoslovak Corps and decided to save the gold for the better times,' said one report.

'The gold can be found in an underground passage beneath the building that was the local representation of the State Bank at that time,' said Kuzhelev.

'The easiest way to move the treasure so that no-one knew about it would have been to move it one level lower. It is known and confirmed by many historical documents that Kolchak did not believe the Allies, and making the decision to move the gold to Beijing, he understood that it might get into the hands from which it will be difficult to get back.

'It was decided to leave some of the gold in Omsk in case the allies would deceive them.'

It seems beyond extraordinary that the gold could remain hidden, especially in the narrow confines of a city.

Yet some cling to this version of what happened to 'Kolchak's Gold'.

Gold in National Bank in Kazan and, below, modern-day picture of the National Bank building in Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Nina Pepelyayev, niece of Kolchak's prime minister Pepelyaev, recalled in her old age discussions about the gold from the time when she was in the admiral's entourage as it retreated east towards Irkutsk.

'Not all the valuables were evacuated', was her recollection.

There is a second version about the gold's hiding place around Omsk, however.

'Feeling that they would need to leave the city, but hoping for the eventual success of the White movement, the Admiral ordered his forces to hide the part of the gold reserves in Omsk,' said Ivan Shihata.

'A wagon with the valuable cargo was packed in boxes, and at night was taken to the appointed place, where it was reloaded onto carts and taken out of town. Between the Agricultural College and the Cossack village of Zakhlamino 30 men under the supervision of eight officers (eyewitnesses mentioned this number) dug a hole, buried the boxes, and hid the treasure - and this was Kolchak's gold.

'Then the officers shot the soldiers, buried their weapons, and returned to the garrison. The officers also eliminated witnesses'.

The third theory is that as the gold was transported east from Omsk, some of the suspected 1,600 tons of royal bullion sank into Lake Baikal after a train accident. By legend this was supposed to have happened on line around Cape Polovinny.

Intriguingly, in 2009 fragments of carriages from the Circum-Baikal Railway believed to date from the period of the post-revolution Russian civil war were found in the lake. Amunition boxes were also discovered.

The following year the Mir-2 submersible located 'shiny metal objects' resembling gold bullions deep underwater near Cape Tolstoy.

Intriguingly, in 2009 fragments of carriages from the Circum-Baikal Railway believed to date from the period of the post-revolution Russian civil war were found in the lake. Amunition boxes were also discovered. Picture: Channel 1 Russia

One environmentalist involved in the underwater search said: 'Deep-sea vehicles found rectangular blocks with a metallic gleam, like gold, 400 metres below the surface'.

Tantalisingly, a report at the time stated: 'Explorers attempted to grab hold of them with the mini-sub's manipulator arm but failed to due to the crumbling gravel on the lake's basin. One consolation is that the explorers have determined the exact position of the alleged treasure.'

The leader of this venture Bair Tsyrenov told The Siberian Times: 'Following the discovery of the fragments of metal structures, similar to the structure of a railway bridge, at a depth of nearly 1,000 metres, Mir-2 began to rise on the slope covered with rocks.

'On this slope we discovered four bars with a distinctive golden glow, that were caught in a crevice on the sloping mass of rocks.

'We were not able to get close to the discovery, the slope was very shaky, any action caused a movement of gravel.

'The manipulator could not reach the bars, but we recorded their exact location.

'Exploring these 'shiny objects' in the same year became impossible because of a weather change. Special dives in the area the following year could only be done by the local divers, but the depth and poor illumination made it impossible to find the 'shiny objects'.'

While admitting that historians have disputed a train crash involving the royal bullion, he said: 'It would be tempting to assume that the 'shiny objects' we found could be related to the history of the disappearance of the gold reserve of the Russian Empire, better known as the Kolchak Gold'.

He has spoken of 'alternative' searches for the gold in Baikal - but did not give details.

It cannot be ruled out that armed with the information on the location of this gold, private hunts out of the public gaze are planned for the royal riches under the surface of this Siberian 'sea'.

Yet this is not the only story relating to the 'lost' treasure in Lake Baikal. Another account suggests that the gold was carried towards Imperial China by troops loyal to Kolchak across the frozen lake in the winter of 1919-20. This desperate attempt to smuggle the tsarist treasure would have come around the time that Kolchak was captured and shot to death in Irkutsk on 7 February 1920.

This version holds that the soldiers froze to death as temperatures sank towards minus 60C.

The gold stayed on the ice-bound surface of the until spring before sinking to the bottom of the world's deepest lake, never to be seen again.

On Kolchak's gold, historian Oleg Budnitskii, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, disputes the value of the treasure trove which he puts at closer to $5 billion at today's prices than some estimates of up to $80 billion.

If true it raises the possibility that these riches lie on the floor and could be found. Yet the maximum depth of Baikal is 1,642 metres (5,387 ft), and it contains more water that all the Great Lakes of North America combined. No 'treasure map' exists, or even hint of the route these forces may have taken, and the scale of any underwater hunt is mind-boggling.

A further fascinating hypothesis about the Kolchak gold reserves stretches further north in Siberia's Krasnoyarsk region.

Researcher Eugene Pashchenko claims that in 1919 a special detachment of White forces were deployed close to the now disused Ob-Yenesei canal.

'Local people showed me a mass grave, where lie the remains of about five hundred White solders,' he said.

'What were they doing here? Who managed to destroy a large, well armed military force? Official documents about this accident do not exist. It is believed that this unit could have been performing a secret mission for the delivery of Admiral Kolchak's gold'.

The assumption is that the plan was to get the gold out of Russia via the Northern Sea Route which was successfully used by Kolchak for receiving munitions from the West.

'The Whites failed to fulfil this task,' he said.

'The detachment died halfway to their goal. However, the local residents who survived passed down the story that before their deaths the White solders were hiding something.'

Of course, it is not impossible that there are elements of truth about all these versions: that the gold was divided up and some is to this day in Omsk, Krasnoyarsk and Baikal. Or all could be wrong.

Back in Kazan, author Valery Kurnosov says evidence of a gold hoard close to the city - perhaps worth $1 billion at today's prices - lies in the files of both the old Soviet KGB and Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6. A New York court was told in 1928 of an evacuation of gold and platinum by foreign legionnaires in 1918. It was revealed they took it by lorry to a site in the woods near Kazan.

Valery Kurnosov says evidence of a gold hoard close to the city - perhaps worth $1 billion at today's prices - lies in the files of both the old Soviet KGB and Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6. Below, Tsarist era map evidently containing clues to the location of the Kazan gold stash. Pictures: The Siberian Times

This came in an astonishing submission to the judge from a Pole called Vyacheslav Vetesko. His brother Konstantin, a legionnaire, had told him in 1920 as he lay dying in Kazan how he had buried the gold with his own hands amid the flames of revolution then engulfing the city.

By candlelight, his brother expiring in front of him, Vyacheslav copied down details of the location of the gold and key landmarks to identify the spot, and later fled the USSR for Warsaw.

'Konstantin told how the Red Army bombed a convey moving the gold in Kazan in 1918,' said Kurnosov. 'The soldiers guarding it ran away. He and his group of legionnaires - among them Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Serbs and Croatians - managed to grab the gold and moved it to the forest, hoping to come back for it later if, as they expected, the Bolshevik stranglehold failed.

'He told how they secured the gold, but that all his fellow mercenaries were killed by Lenin's forces as the Reds pushed back the Whites. Konstantin was the sole survivor to tell the the story about the hidden Kazan gold."

This gold - probably owned by private individuals from the old royal capital rather than the tsar - led to an extraordinary joint operation between east and west in Stalin times in an attempt to locate it.

Called Operation Golden Fleece, the hunt began on 1 October 1929 and there was an agreement to share any treasure that was found.

Letter from Moscow archive to researcher Ibragimov saying that certain details on the Kazan gold remain classified. Picture: The Siberian Times

Sources with access to other documents on the gold which remain classified to this day say that one of two leaders of the foreign contingent Roger George Ludwig Gariel was in fact identified by the Soviets as a spy working directly for British intelligence.

'It is clear London was taking a close interest in this search, and no doubt the records would be in their files," said Ravil Ibragimov, another researcher convinced the gold still lies hidden.

An 'urgent, top secret' telegram sent to Moscow by a Soviet official stated: 'After whole day spent with no result yesterday, the foreigners became a bit more open. As a result, I got a chance to have a look at their notes, and plans, and maps'.

Another from Nicholay Prasolov, manager of the State Bank in Kazan, told his Moscow chiefs of his conviction that 'the treasure is not a myth. It exists, and is buried somewhere in the region around Kazan. But the materials they are using so far are insufficient to detect the exact location'.

Ten years later he would be executed by Stalin as an 'enemy of the people', for financial crimes amounting to 'counter-revolutionary activities', possibly in relation to the gold. For now the Soviets wrote daily 'protocols' reporting on progress on the search and on the behaviour of the foreigners.

Head of the Russian search in 1929, Nikolai Prasolov, later executed as an 'enemy of the people'. Picture: The Siberian Times

At one point, a lawyer with the foreign group was sent to Warsaw for consultations with Vyacheslav and to get more instructions about the location of the gold. Six weeks into the hunt, after heavy snow falls, it was aborted.

The aim was to restart it the following year, but the Soviet side refused, perhaps hoping that by now they now had sufficient knowledge to locate it without foreign involvement.

There is indeed evidence that the Russians returned to the hunt in the following two summers, and again between 1948 and 1950, and once more in 1963, in the final year of Khrushchev's rule.

'The place where the treasure hunters stopped their search was in a meadow of about 300 square metres enclosed within a forest. Several expeditions later undertaken by the Soviet side could not find any treasures there. But they deployed soldiers and sappers armed with small shovels. Later the authorities hired peasants. But you need heavy equipment - excavators, bulldozers, and the like.'

'I am convinced the gold is still buried in its original location, and can be extracted,' said researcher Ravil Ibragimov, who has worked on finding the gold for half his lifetime after hearing stories as a Soviet child of its burial near his village of Astrakhanka. 'There is not a scrap of evidence that it was taken out of the ground by the Bolsheviks or anyone else'.

Secret agreement on the foreign gold hunt in 1929. Picture: The Siberian Times

On Kolchak's gold, historian Oleg Budnitskii, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, disputes the value of the treasure trove which he puts at closer to $5 billion at today's prices than some estimates of up to $80 billion.

He also claims to have 'put to rest' the debate on Kolchak's gold by asserting that virtually every rouble can be accounted for and that no mystery remains.

'The lion's share of the money received by the government of Admiral Kolchak... was used for the purchase of arms, uniforms, and other military supplies', he wrote, while also detailing how vast sums went into Western banks and was later used to pay off outstanding loans.

Many, though, are not ready to believe the logic of his analysis and crave the discovery of the gold in Siberia 95 years after abdicated Nicholas II and his family were slain in the Urals.

Source & Copyright: The Siberian Times
2 August, 2013