Does Britain Hold the Key to
Finding Russia's Lost Gold?

Gold dating from the time of the last tsar Nicholas II
Artist: Archives

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A gold rush is set to hit Russia after claims that a huge treasure trove dating from the time of the last tsar Nicholas II, with possible British claimants, remains buried in remote woodland near the city of Kazan.

Historian Valery Kurnosov says evidence of the hoard, estimated to be worth about half a billion pounds at today’s prices, lies in the files of both the KGB and MI6.

He has also unearthed documents showing that Stalin and Khrushchev both sought to get their hands on the loot but failed.

By rights, the haul, estimated to weigh 17 tons or more, belongs to descendants of its owners, nominally a tsarist financial institution with emigré and British investors. Many may have no inkling they could claim.

Mr Kurnosov has urged the Russian government to organise a search, putting his faith in old maps and modern technology.

The story of the Kazan gold has long intrigued the intelligence services of Russia and the West, despite claims that it was long ago raided.

“I am convinced the gold is still buried in its original location and can be extracted,” said researcher Ravil Ibragimov, 55, who heard 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."

“There is always interest in shipwrecks but this is bigger than anything at the bottom of the ocean.” Gold was secreted in Kazan as Russia descended into revolution during the First World War. British agents were involved in the removal of tsarist treasures from the then capital Petrograd (now St Petersburg) to Kazan, east of Moscow for safe-keeping from Bolshevik forces.

In the months before July 1918, when abdicated autocrat 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.

One of Britain’s most famous spies, Sidney Reilly, and the colourful, womanising diplomat, Robert Bruce Lockhart, accused of plotting to assassinate Lenin, were directly involved. Much of the gold was smuggled to the West by Admiral Alexander Kolchak to pay for assistance to the White Russian forces.

However, persistent claims, treated with deadly seriousness by occupants of the Kremlin during the Soviet era, say a significant stash, belonging to the Petrograd-based Russian Asian Bank and its investors, remains hidden near Kazan. “A court case in New York in 1928 brought by the emigré owner of the bank, Alexei Putilov, demanded the return of gold seized by the Bolsheviks,” said Mr Kurnosov.

“During the hearing, evidence suddenly emerged of an evacuation of gold and platinum linked to this by foreign legionnaires in 1918. It was revealed in a death bed testimony of the last survivor that they took it by lorry to a site in the woods near Kazan. The court case led to an extraordinary joint operation by the bank and the Soviet authorities.”

Under a cloak of secrecy but with the full approval of Stalin, a search was conducted in 1929 by a team nominated by the emigré bankers and Soviet apparatchiks.

Stalinist papers reveal both sides sought the gold and agreed in advance how to share it but were deeply suspicious of each other’s motives. Documents allege a leader of the foreign contingent, Roger George Ludwig Gariel, was a British agent.

“It is clear London was taking a close interest in this search and no doubt the records would be in their files,” said Mr Ibragimov. The head of the Russian search team Nicholay Prasolov was executed as an enemy of the people. The Soviets returned to look for the gold between 1948 and 1950, and again in 1963, the final year of Khrushchev’s rule.

Mr Kurnosov hopes the Moscow Finance Ministry will now authorise a proper search. “I want to find the English-speaking descendants of the Russian emigrés who made the original claims in the New York commercial court and others who may have an interest in this gold."

“Based on archive documents, they have every reason to demand that this matter is brought to an end, as does the Russian state which could claim a substantial slice of the 17 tons or more of gold.”

Sunday Express
14 February, 2010