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Thai treasure cove a hoax: officals

Thai Chaowarin
Chaowarin may have been the victim of a big hoax  

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Certainly almost fake

Recalling the Philippine scam

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BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thai treasure hunters are losing hope that their hunt for a fabled hoard of Japanese World War II-era booty will end happily for them.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has called for a halt to digging at a cave near the border with Myanmar, where the treasure was supposed to be hidden.

He's hoping that a satellite owned by friends in the U.S. can detect whether the treasure exists when it passes over the site later this week.

Thailand has been in the grip of gold fever since senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri said the Japanese Imperial Army had stashed 2,500 tonnes of booty in a train that was hidden inside the cave.

Politicians say the hoard would have been enough to pay off Thailand's US $61 billion national debt.

The Prime Minister took the story seriously enough to fly to the site by helicopter last Friday.

Certainly almost fake

However, officials now say the booty, which are made up of U.S. government bonds are almost certainly fake.

For one thing, they are said to have a face value of $100 million each, and the United States has never issued bonds of this size.

Thaksin's mood has also changed; he's now telling reporters that Chaovarin may have been the victim of a giant hoax.

"It is possible that somebody might have left the bonds at the cave and made him believe they were real bonds," he said.

Former deputy education minister Chaovarin has also admitted he may have been the victim of an elaborate hoax.

"I don't know what is actually inside the cave since I have never been in there," he said, adding it was possible there was no treasure inside.

An elderly monk claims he saw the hoard when he went into the cave to meditate years ago.

Recalling the Philippine scam

Thai newspapers said the mystery appeared to have similarities to a scam foiled this year in the Philippines.

Fraudsters there had been trying to sell trillions of dollars of fake U.S. bonds, which they claimed had been discovered in the wreckage of a crashed World War Two bomber found in a remote jungle.

The gang had produced the bonds -- which had absurdly high denominations, like the bonds allegedly found in Thailand -- using computers and desktop printers.

Thailand is rich with stories about how the departing Japanese army left large amounts of gold and money as it retreated from the region in 1945.

The fables are proving to be more convincing than fact for senator Chaovarin,

"If there is no treasure in this cave, I will search in others if I am informed of them," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Thailand starts WWII treasure hunt
April 16, 2001
Thai senator lifts lid on treasure cove
April 16, 2001

RELATED SITE:
Government of Thailand

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