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Doubts over treasure-filled wreck on Russian ship

A COMPANY claiming to have found the wreck of a Russian warship with US$130 billion in gold “treasure” off the coast of South Korea has drawn skepticism from researchers and regulators in Seoul.

Shinil Group, which lists a Singapore address on its website, said on Tuesday that 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 200 tons of gold worth 150 trillion won (US$130 billion) and it would provide evidence next week to support its claims.

Shinil 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 described its newly launched Donskoi International cryptocurrency 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.

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.