01:27 - Source: CNN
South Korean police investigate sunken ship claims
Seoul, South Korea CNN —  

Police are investigating a South Korean company that claimed to have discovered a sunken Russian warship with $8.9 billion worth of gold on board.

South Korean police are investigating the firm, called Shinil Group, for possible fraudulent claims and have banned senior company staff members from leaving the country, a police spokesman told CNN on Tuesday.

The company announced earlier this month that it had found the Dmitri Donskoii, a 5,800-ton Russian warship that had sunk during the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, in the waters between present-day South Korea and Japan.

A picture supplied by the Shinil Group of the sunken ship.
A picture supplied by the Shinil Group of the sunken ship.

The company originally said that previous reports had estimated the ship contained up to $134 billion worth of gold, but lowered that figure in a press conference on July 26.

Following the announcement, share prices for Jeil Steel Manufacturing Co. surged on the South Korean stock market, though Jeil Steel said it had nothing to do with the discovery.

The Financial Supervisory Service said both the current and former heads of Shinil Group bought stakes in Jeil Steel earlier this month, Reuters reported.

CNN tried to reach Shinil Group on Tuesday, but the phone numbers listed for the company are no longer in service or have been disconnected.

The ship exists – the gold is another matter

The Dmitri Donskoii first-class armored cruiser sank during the Russo-Japanese War, which Moscow eventually lost.

Since its sinking, there have been numerous attempts to explore the remains of the ship and hunt for its purported treasure.

It is believed by some to have had a large hoard of gold coins on board – money that was part of the Russian war fund.

The now-bankrupt Donga Construction company previously attempted to explore and salvage the ship in the early 2000s.

According to reports from the time, claims the ship’s cargo was worth potentially billions of dollars caused Donga’s stock value to spike – despite denials of this claim by the South Korean authorities.

CNN’s Jueng-eun Kim reported from Seoul, Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. Sophie Jeong and Jenni Kim contributed to this report.