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How a Locksmith, a Dictator and a WWII General Are Connected to $22 Billion in Lost Treasure

April 29, 2019 in History

By Greg Daugherty

First came the diamond-filled golden Buddha and the box of gold bars. Then came the torture.

Roxas v. Marcos was a classic David and Goliath tale, a battle between two wildly mismatched opponents.

Goliath in this case was the ruthless Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a man with a personal fortune estimated in the billions of dollars and an army of thugs and torturers at his command.

David was a 27-year-old Filipino locksmith and amateur treasure hunter named Rogelio Roxas.

At stake in the fight was a golden Buddha statue and other loot Roxas said he had unearthed from a secret underground tunnel. It was believed to be part a long-rumored stash of plunder that Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita had buried in the Philippines in the waning days of World War II. Marcos’ agents had stolen it from Roxas at gunpoint. Roxas wanted it back.

When Roxas v. Marcos finally played out in a Honolulu courtroom, more than 20 years later, Roxas would not only win, but win big. The jury ordered the Marcos family to pay a staggering $22 billion, then the largest award on record.

Jose Roxas, right, holds the Golden Buddha as Henry Roxas, son of Rogelio, the original owner of the buddha, watches at a courthouse in Baguio City, where it was ordered released to the trusteehip of the Roxas family on Monday June 24, 1996.

A treasure map leads to a golden Buddha—and more.

For Roxas, the road to justice was long, winding and often bloody, as he related in his pre-trial deposition. In 1961, he said, he’d met a man whose father served in the Japanese Army and had drawn a map showing where the so-called Yamashita Treasure was hidden. Soon another man, who claimed to have been Yamashita’s interpreter, told Roxas he’d visited tunnels filled with boxes of gold and silver during the war. He’d also seen a golden Buddha.

In 1970, Roxas obtained a permit from Pio Marcos, a local judge and relative of Ferdinand Marcos, to begin excavating one site. Along with a team of laborers, he spent the next seven months searching the area and digging “24 hours a day” until they finally hit a network of underground tunnels. Inside they found weapons, radios and skeletal remains in a Japanese uniform. They continued digging, and several weeks later came upon a concrete enclosure in the floor of a tunnel.

When they broke …read more


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