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Sunken treasure scheme scuttled


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Sunken treasure in the world's oceans could be worth up to trillions of dollars.

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SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australian police have arrested a man over a Southeast Asia sunken treasure scheme that promised huge returns to investors.

Christopher Paul Woolgrove, 40, was arrested in the Australian city of Brisbane Thursday after a joint investigation by the Australian Federal Police and the corporate regulator, the Australian Securities & Investments Commission.

They allege Woolgrove ran an unregistered investment scheme known as the Hatcher Unit Trust, to raise money to fund the recovery of treasure from shipwrecks in Southeast Asia.

The schemes allegedly promised returns of up to 1365 percent.

ASIC subsequently charged Woolgrove with operating an unregistered managed investment scheme. The AFP charged him with money laundering.

ASIC and the AFP said in a statement Friday that a joint task force seized various items during raids in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide.

The New Zealand Serious Fraud Office in Auckland also was involved.

Woolgrove was banned for life by ASIC in February 1995 from being involved in the securities and investments industry.

In September 1998 he was given a suspended jail sentence after he illegally raised funds for two ocean salvage schemes covering Spanish galleons off the coast of the Philippines and near Guam.

In April 2000 the New Zealand corporate regulator, the Securities Commission, warned about a sunken treasure scheme promoted by Ocean Salvage Investments Ltd, an Auckland-based company in which Woolgrove was the sole director and shareholder.

The Securities Commission said the company had raised about NZ$940,000 (about $610,000) from Australian and New Zealand investors.

A spokeswoman for ASIC was unable to comment Friday on the number of investors or the amount of money raised by Woolgrove in the latest scheme.

Estimates of the value of sunken treasure in the world's oceans ranges from billions to trillions of dollars.

According to the Web site www.hatchertreasure.com, set up by Indonesia-based treasure hunter and salvager Michael Hatcher, technology will allow the recovery of all salvageable wrecks in the "next 10 to 20 years".

Hatcher is best known for finding in 1999 the wreck of the Chinese junk Tek Sing, which sank in 1822 in the Gelasa strait, between Borneo and Sumatra.

That resulted in the recovery of 350,000 pieces of Chinese blue and white porcelain.

In 1986, he also raised 170,000 pieces of Chi'ing dynasty porcelain and 126 gold bars from the Geldermalsen, a Dutch "East Indiaman" ship which sank off Singapore in 1751.

According to the Hatcher Web site, an estimated 75 percent of all the gold found over the last 6000 years is lying at the bottom of the ocean.


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