The disappearance of the Kruger Millions 1 month 2 weeks ago #89564
Disappearance of the Kruger Millions – a different perspective
A large number of books and articles have been published about the so called “Kruger Millions.” The sensational publications detail hoards of gold buried in the Eastern Transvaal while the officially sanctioned accounts argue that no great quantities of gold were left, and that, just prior to Roberts’ entry into Pretoria, Jannie Smuts and his men emptied the vaults of all gold which was then subsequently properly dispensed and accounted for. There were good, patriotic, reasons for the emergence and perpetuation of this official story line but there are equally good reasons to doubt it is based in truth.
Over the period October 1899 to May 31, 1900 the mines commandeered by the ZAR produced approximately 542.500 Ounces of gold (records of the SA Chambers of Mines augmented by a production estimate for the month of October 1899). I estimate that the value of the ZAR’s assets held in Pretoria ultimo May 1900 (after war related and other cost) amounted to about 2,4 million Pond. (if interested in the underlying calculations, please refer page 246 of “Kruger’s Bluebacks” the book I wrote about the Gouvernements Noten) If the unspent part of the Gouvernements Noten and all the “currency” commandeered under the Kommando Wet are deducted, then there would have been gold (bars, Krugerponden, blank ponden and scrap) to the value of about 1,75 million Pond in possession of the ZAR, stored in the vaults of the state Mint and Nationale bank and including a cache of 120.000 ounces hidden by pro-British individuals at the Robinson mine. If from this amount the 750.000 Pond (500.000 Pond according to Smuts himself) removed before the enemy took control of Pretoria is further deducted, then the whereabouts of about 250,000 ounces of gold remains to be explained.
According to the official story line no gold or other valuables were shipped by the ZAR to safe havens outside the Republic during the war. Literally taken, this was true. In reality, however, there is proof that the ZAR actually did ship gold out of the country and did so with the assistance of trusted intermediaries (a.o. the NZASM). Such parties took title to the gold in Southern Africa and either physically transported it to Europe for deposit into ZAR bullion accounts or credited its value (minus costs and fees and often using additional intermediaries) to European ZAR bank accounts operated by Dr. Leyds
In this context one gold shipment from the ZAR to Europe is of particular interest.
On the 11th of July 1900, a German-flagged vessel (the Bundesrath) docked at Vlissingen in the Netherlands with a cargo of 210.000 ounces of gold from Southern Africa. On paper the gold belonged to the Nederlandsche Crediet Vereniging (Nederlandsche Bank & Crediet Vereniging voor Zuid Afrika - now Nedbank.) It can be argued that the shipment was actually made on behalf of the ZAR treasury itself, and that it had been subject to a temporary ownership-switch similar to what was used a few months later with the well documented “sale” of about 64,000 ounces of gold to the firm Wilcken & Ackermann in Lourenco Marquez.
D.W. Kruger mentions in his book about the Kruger Millions that the gold delivered by the Bundesrath to Vlissingen “no longer” belonged to the ZAR treasury, implying of course that it once did. Factors that collectively make a case for the ZAR treasury being the ultimate owner of the cargo when it arrived in Vlissingen can be summarized as follows:
- The Nederlandsche Crediet Vereniging was at the time well established in Southern Africa and one of the “ZAR banks” in pro-Boer Holland. In December 1899 and in February 1900, Dr Leyds had already transferred a total of 720,000 Dutch Guilders (£60,000) into accounts at the bank;
- The shipment (with a present-day value of $420 million) equates to almost 3 full months of Munnik’s gold production, and is substantially more than the value of all the gold confiscated under the Kommando Wet from all the “foreign” banks operating in the Transvaal at the time; i.e. a quantity too large to have come from a single local bank. The only credible sources for this shipment are the state-owned Mint and/or the Nationale Bank;
- On October 19, 1899 the Transvaal Government blocked all prospective gold exports by commercial banks. This large shipment could never have taken place without involvement of the ZAR Government;
- In May 1900 the ZAR Government conducted a secret meeting in which it adopted an emergency financial strategy. Some of the decisions taken at that meeting are now known (e.g. bestowing wide powers on Dr. Leyds, allowing him to do with the ZAR treasury in Europe as he deemed fit). Other decisions remain secret, an issue that is not helped by the fact that then Treasury-General Malherbe (who was present at the secret meeting) deliberately omitted to hand his successor (de Villiers) the proper accounts over the period October 1899 to September 1900, and by the much more puzzling fact that Dr. Leyds’ promised “Final Audit” of the ZAR’s financial affairs during and after the war, never surfaced. In any way, the manner in which the transport under the flag of the Nederlandsche Crediet Vereniging was executed, including associated disinformation efforts, seems to perfectly fit an emergency financial strategy.
- At the very start of the war the British Authorities had declared all ZAR gold “War Contraband”, thereby effectively closing the door to any export of the metal to Europe under the flag of the ZAR. With British troops moving in on Pretoria by the end of May 1900, the knowledge that the ability to wage war depended on having access to funds to wage it, and with the safeguarding of gold as consequent objective, this shipment being on behalf of the ZAR treasury would make perfect sense;
- The Bundesrath sailed from Lourenco Marques on the 22nd of May 1900. The vessel docked in Marseilles on the June 24 and continued its journey to Vlissingen from there. Because the date of departure from Lourenco Marques is known (and allowing for the 26-hour train journey from Pretoria) the gold aboard the Bundesrath must have left the Transvaal on or before May 20, so more than two weeks before Smuts cleared the vaults of the National Bank and State Mint of their contents. Given the overall situation at the time in the Transvaal - doom and gloom with many senior government officials ready to throw in the towel - a gold shipment such as this for the ultimate account of the ZAR treasury is entirely plausible and may explain why Smuts was surprised to “still” find so much gold in Pretoria at the beginning of June.
A noteworthy aspect in this context is the fact that the Imperial German Mail Steamer Bundesrath, owned by the Deutsche Ostafrikalinie*, was used in both the Wilcken & Ackermann and “Nederlandsche Crediet Vereniging” gold transports to Europe. This vessel had in December 1899 been detained and searched by the British navy on suspicion of transporting war contraband destined for the Boers. Nothing was found at the time, but the German Government had raised a sufficiently pungent diplomatic stink about the incident that any promotion-conscious British naval officer would have thought twice before ordering his crew to board this particular vessel again. Of course, this aspect made the Bundesrath more suitable for such delicate transport than any other ship.
In conclusion, and based on the information at hand, it would appear that the vast majority (more than 80%) of the Kruger Millions didn’t go missing from sandpits in the veldt, but ended up in ZAR accounts at one or more of the private banks in Europe, notably Holland. What happened to the funds in those accounts afterwards is a different story. I fear that only Dr. Leyds knew this story in its entirety and, unless his “Final Audit**” surfaces one day, we will never know.
Because of the secrecy and sensitivities at the time (the British authorities made great efforts to recuperate ZAR funds they thought hidden in accounts in Europe) not much documentation exists in regard to the secret aspects of the emergency financial strategy adopted by the ZAR in May 1900 and the implementation thereof. As such, my assertions above remain to a degree rather speculative. If any of the members have information and comments (letters, diaries, family anecdotes etc) that could shine further light on this matter (whether corroborating or refuting) please comment!
* The Kruger Government’s relationship with the Deutsche Ostafrikalinie dated back from long before the war and extended well beyond commercial considerations. With telegraph communication between the Transvaal and Europe controlled, monitored and censored by the British, this shipping line played a crucial role in facilitating secret communication between the ZAR and Europe during the war
** The Leyds papers that were made public in 1952, fifty years after the end of the war and five years after his death, shed some light on the matter but are incorrect and, without doubt, incomplete. His true “Final Audit” that he promised in 1927 (the year that the ZAR funds in Europe were officially depleted) to make public, have, despite much effort, never surfaced.
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