Subj: South China Morning Post
Date: 11/2/99 10:32:18 AM PST
Published on Sunday, October 31, 1999
Hirohito's hidden billions
It contains all the elements of a political thriller: family squabbles,
power struggles, duplicity and murder. It involves a huge pile
treasure - bullion worth billions stashed all over the world -
operations to retrieve it. It promises a sequel. And best of all,
So say Sterling and Peggy Seagrave, in their latest work, The
Dynasty (Bantam Press, $150), an incisive biography of five generations
Japan's imperial family since the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Their
controversial claims, however, centre on the country's longest-reigning
emperor, Hirohito, who died in 1989.
The book claims to reveal for the first time the imperial family's
role in Japan's wartime looting of Asia - a covert operation named
Lily that was headed by Prince Chichibu, a brother of Hirohito,
involved the military, the secret service, underworld figures
It aims to expose the extent to which Washington and Tokyo supposedly
collaborated to keep this secret and deceive the world into thinking
fighting had left Japan too poor to compensate its victims meaningfully.
It dashes once and for all assumptions that the imperial family
fossilised symbol removed from day-to-day decisions during the
It also says that the people involved in Hirohito's exoneration
crimes - including General Douglas MacArthur and former US president
Herbert Hoover - walked away from the occupation with huge amounts
"I think this is going to turn out to be one of the great
scandals of the
century," Sterling Seagrave says matter-of-factly.
In a phone interview from his home in Europe, the former journalist
explains how he and his wife first stumbled across information
lead them on an 18-year investigation of the Japanese imperial
tiptoes around exactly where he lives because of possible retaliation
the latest revelations.
"In the course of working on a book about the Marcoses [The
Dynasty] we discovered how much of the Japanese war loot Ferdinand
had recovered," Seagrave says. "At the time we didn't
too well how the looting operation had occurred during World War
assumed there was collaboration between the Japanese army and
underworld. It was only after we published the book that we realised
were a number of imperial princes involved in the looting."
While Japan's war aggression is well documented, much less has
written about its plundering and the people killed to keep hideaways
secret. According to the Seagraves, many POWs prisoners of war
Japanese soldiers were buried alive in vaults they dug for the
which included gold bullion, gems and artifacts. Others died when
ships they were on were scuttled so the treasure could be hidden
That it has taken so long for the imperial family to be implicated
surprising because, according to Seagrave, "nobody had looked
Seagrave says nobody had done a study of Prince Chichibu, who
was believed to have sat out the war recuperating from tuberculosis
estate near Mount Fuji, or Prince Takeda, a cousin of Hirohito
Seagrave says, oversaw the collection and concealment of Japan's
or any of the others, like Prince Asaka, an uncle of Hirohito
commanded the rape of Nanking.
The authors contend that Hirohito appointed Chichibu head of Golden
(named after one of the emperor's poems) in 1940, with Takeda
deputy. According to their sources - participants and other eyewitnesses,
as well as Chichibu's retinue - the two apparently traveled to
Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Malaya, Singapore,
Java, Borneo and the Philippines, looting treasures and supervising
transport to Japan using ships disguised with hospital crosses.
The imperial family's actual role in Golden Lily was never apparent
several reasons, Seagrave says. "For example, Prince Takeda
used a nom de
guerre everywhere he worked in Asia during the war, so people
into contact with him knew him by different names. This has taken
nearly 20 years to figure out," he says.
But the couple was able to pinpoint Takeda and others by putting
information gleaned from various sources.
"People who described Takeda to us physically knew he was
a prince, but
they didn't know which prince he was and weren't quite sure what
relationship was to Hirohito," Seagrave says. "It turned
out there were
actually uncles, cousins and brothers all there [involved in the
plundering] at the same time."
After the war, the story takes a more sinister turn when US forces
MacArthur occupied Japan, raising expectations that, among other
democracy would flourish, the zaibatsu conglomerates that had
Japan's warmongering would be dissolved, and the guilty would
But those hopes proved premature when Allied investigators proclaimed
falsely, the Seagraves say - Japan to be bankrupt, removing from
duty of paying meaningful reparations.
In comparison with Germany, which has provided US$30 billion (HK$233
billion) in compensation over the years, Japan has paid only US$2
According to Seagrave, "British PoWs received only US$48
victims got zero".
MacArthur also allowed Hirohito's own accountants to audit the
wealth - which they hugely underestimated at US$100 million, a
has been noted by others.
In addition the Supreme Commander Allied Powers announced that
and other penalties, Hirohito had only US$42,000 in cash - a laughable
figure in the Seagraves' opinion.
Not only did the imperious general downplay Japan's and the emperor's
worth but, the authors contend, he went out of his way to make
seem innocent of any war crimes by forcing wartime prime minister
Hideki Tojo and other officers to perjure themselves by claiming
responsibility for the war.
But MacArthur was not alone. His aide, General Bonner Fellers,
US ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew were also in on the conspiracy
exonerate Hirohito, the Seagraves say.
And Hirohito was not the only member of the imperial household
punishment. None of his family was tried for war crimes.
Why the deception? MacArthur and a clique of right-wing Americans
(financiers included) wanted Hirohito to remain in power so they
hold him hostage to their demands, the authors argue. They needed
protect US interests in Japan, including massive loans and business
investments made before the war. They also wanted a shield against
communist expansion in the East.
"Hoover wanted conservative, anti-communist Japan to be America's
political, commercial and financial ally in Asia," the Seagraves
"Tokyo would be the Asian base for the Republican Party and
Even if the sham had stopped there, Tokyo and Washington would
reason now to take up the cudgels; there is likely to be a surge
reparation claims, for one. But there is more.
The Seagraves contend that while Washington was declaring Japan
insolvent, between 1945 and 1948 agents of the Office of Strategic
Services (which became the CIA in 1947) and US Army officers were
an OSS officer, Severino Garcia Santa Romana, in the recovery
of dollars worth of war loot from mountain caves in the Philippines.
Gold bullion emptied from vaults were deposited in 176 bank accounts
countries, they add. And some of this bounty ended up lining the
of Hoover and MacArthur.
"The loot was earmarked for secret anti-communist operations
Cold War," Seagrave says.
"What this means is that there is now incontrovertible evidence
collusion between America and Japan, while millions of war victims
without any form of compensation to this day."
Seagrave's calm, steady voice belies the excitement he must have
he found what he says is proof of this unholy alliance. "It's
only as this
book began to come into its final form [in the past two years]
dovetailed - to the extent we knew beyond question there had been
collusion," he says.
"We were doing research at the Hoover Library in California
MacArthur Memorial Library in Norfolk, Virginia. At both places
suddenly came across documents, personal notes, diaries, entries
some annotations that confirmed the link between General MacArthur's
in Tokyo and the people in the Philippines making these recoveries.
. led us to the bank documents that showed the Japanese war loot
accounts in the name of Herbert Hoover and of General MacArthur."
How much did they profit from the war? "We know that when
died, his son had to get permission from the American Treasury
US$100 million in gold bullion that was in his father's bank account,"
says Seagrave, adding that he has yet to calculate the exact amount
MacArthur had in his account.
But, he continues, "we do know MacArthur had an account with
dollars in gold in it at the Hong Kong branch of the Sanwa Bank.
this account jointly with Hirohito. If that isn't collusion at
level . . ."
According to Seagrave, the US has kept its role "in all of
this very, very
But, "we got some documents connected to the CIA, who were
involved in the
Santa Romana bank accounts. These were people who in the last
20 years or
so have been trying to get their hands on some of the gold deposits,
their own benefit".
What are their names? "I'd rather leave that for the next
says, estimating that the sequel, which will focus on the revelations
about Golden Lily, will be out in 18 months. "I need to have
documentation so that I can't get challenged at this point legally."
Seagrave's caution is understandable, considering the furore this
could cause in Washington and in Tokyo (though, to date, there
nothing but stony silence). Already, however, the wheels of justice
starting to turn with new legal action being taken by war victims.
"What's happening now is that various PoWs and their lawyers
together in what could become something equivalent to the tobacco
class-action suit," Seagrave says.
"I think it could end up being a suit against the zaibatsu
on the one hand
and the Japanese Government on the other.
"But, eventually, I think it's going to involve the US Government
The Seagraves are also taking no chances by revealing before they
ready the names of other players in this game of political poker.
they will also sleep easier as their web of researchers and sources
expands. "There might be people who become outraged and decide
we have to
be murdered but it's not going to be that easy . . . murdering
me is not
going to stop this story coming out."
After Seagrave's 1986 publication of The Soong Dynasty, in which
revealed Chiang Kai-shek's underworld links, he and his family
hiding because of death threats. Seagrave, who grew up in Burma
spent his career investigating East-West history, is also the
Lords Of The Rim, which is about overseas-Chinese networks. Peggy
Seagrave, with whom he worked to produce Dragon Lady, a book about
Dowager Empress Ci Xi, will be collaborating on the sequel to
No doubt treasure hunters will take a close interest. As the Seagraves
point out: "In the Japanese holocaust, millions were killed
were stolen, but the loot vanished. One of the great mysteries
happened to the billions of dollars' worth of treasure confiscated
Japanese army from a dozen conquered countries."
Chichibu had much of the plunder sent to him in the Philippines,
was hidden in 172 "imperial" locations for later shipment
to Japan, the
authors say. In Japan, loot was stashed in several places, including
Nagano, where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held.
"We have no idea how much made its way to Japan, either overland
China, through Korea or by sea," says Seagrave, who believes
it is with
this secret fund that the zaibatsu financed Japan's post-war economic
"miracle". He also contends a member of the imperial
family has confided
that the army had amassed more than US$100 billion in loot (in
dollars), much of it salted away in the Philippines, where "it
will take a
century to uncover".
Seagrave also believes "there are small repositories all
over the place,
because individual officers or groups of officers managed to siphon
certain amount of loot".
"The equivalent of what were then the imperial sites in the
are known to exist in Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the Celebes. It's
there were some in Malaya as well," he says.
Seagrave says it is hard to say where else the loot may be hidden,
in many cases wartime inventories fell into the hands of the Marcoses
those who worked with them.
"But we have photographic evidence of site maps of these
172 sites and we
know one-third of them that have not been recovered," he
As to why countries have not made concerted efforts to reclaim
stolen property, the Seagraves in part blame the tumultuous scramble
independence after the war.
But they also point to ongoing operations - in the Philippines,
instance, groups are trying to uncover loot at an army base in
southeast of Manila.
In Nagano, however, Seagrave says: "I think the loot has
simply been left
there as national treasure."
Perhaps it will be needed if Seagrave's dream is to come true.
people who've been cruelly treated and whose lives have been deformed
their experience during the war were simply cheated, very often
own governments after the war in collusion with Japan," he
says. "I hope
the war victims in the end get what they should have had all along,
is some justice."
Published in the South China Morning Post. Copyright © 1999.