Part 1



Peter Johnston was 54 years old when, in August 1996, he was convicted in England of fraud [i]. Sentenced to two years, he served twelve months in Ford Open Prison before returning to his native Australia to live. Prison was a desultory experience for Johnston, and aggravated by his innocence. The City of London Fraud Squad, acting in concert with two large gold banks, brought the charge of fraud against him. The banks were the Union Bank of Switzerland, Zurich, and the London branch of Australia's Westpac Banking Corporation.[ii]

Johnston's crime had been to deposit a gold certificate in the City branch of Westpac for "safe custody" on 15 February 1995. He did not attempt to have Westpac negotiate or otherwise attest whether the certificate -- apparently issued by the Union Bank of Switzerland, Zurich – was genuine and even agreed to allow the bank to append a disclaimer on the safe custody receipt as to the value of the documents. It was a straightforward case of securing documents in the vaults of the bank for a brief spell while travelling abroad. By the official standards of the London Gold Market, the certificate represented quite a large cache of gold at 740 metric tonnes.[iii] At slightly more than $300 an ounce, this translated into a market value of approximately US$8 billion, large enough to make eyes pop.
Westpac's Correspondent Banking Manager, David Blenkinsopp, subsequently stated that he felt "uncomfortable" about the deposit of documents and decided he "should record the incident in [the] fraud manual and perhaps alert the authorities to a possible fraud. "His alleged fears did not immediately materialise into action, and would lay dormant for another seven days. However, despite what Blenkinsopp described as his original “discomfort” with the transaction, his later story to the police was that Johnston had been "very cooperative." [iv]

At 2.00 a.m. on the morning following the deposit of the certificate into safe keeping (16 February 1995), Blenkinsopp, unable to sleep due to worry, decided to telephone his head office in Australia. He requested that Bob Hinze, manager of Westpac's Burleigh Heads branch, contact him as soon as possible. The reason for this call was, he said, that Johnston had earlier told Blenkinsopp that both he and his co-director, Alan Bristow, were valued customers of Westpac and that Bristow, in particular, had banked with Westpac/Burleigh Heads for many years.

Hinze returned the call within half an hour and listened as Blenkinsopp outlined his fears, but remained stoic and relaxed. Hinze was able to confirm that he knew Johnston and Bristow personally and that the latter had been "a long-standing customer of the bank." He also said that he had conducted similar lodgments of gold certificates for them in the past and that they were "only trying to earn a brokerage fee." He added that the certificates "had typographical errors in them” and that “this was deliberate because there was a special code that allowed them to be identified as genuine." He continued: "we see little harm in holding the certificates for safe keeping but we recommend that that be the limit of our involvement." [v]

In fact, Johnston and Bristow had kept Bob Hinze fully informed of the progress they were making in negotiating the certificate and had earlier requested his guidance regarding which bank they should deposit the certificate with during Johnston's forthcoming visit to London. Hinze, believing the Westpac's London branch had closed, suggested contacting its London correspondent, Midland Bank Plc. Since Johnston had no account at Midland and was not a UK resident, Midland Bank Plc demurred but suggested that Johnston's London law firm, Linklaters and Paines, could hold the certificates in custody. Linklaters, however, advised Johnston that Westpac did have a London branch. Hence Johnston's arrival at Westpac's office on 15 February 1995. 

Satisfied that he was dealing with pre-existing bank customers, Blenkinsopp relaxed, he later said. This remained the case until 21 February 1995, when a message arrived from Bob Hinze advising that Johnston's Australian lawyer, Morris Milder, would soon be contacting Blenkinsopp to issue a standard "script" receipt describing the contents of the envelope and, in particular, detailing the certificate numbers held in custody. In the ordinary course of a transaction such as this, the bank would sign the receipt and deliver it to Johnston, and he would, upon his return, present the receipt to redeem the certificate from safe keeping.

Blenkinsopp, in fact, was already aware what the safe custody envelope contained, because he had insisted on inspecting it when Johnston first brought it in. This was standard procedure to make sure deposit items contained no drugs, explosives etc. The latest request, for the receipt, however, aggravated Blenkinsopp's anxiety. The reason for his concern, he later explained, was that he already had issued a safe custody receipt on Westpac letterhead and believed the newly requested script receipt could be construed "as an endorsement of Westpac as to the value of the documents, despite [his] handwritten disclaimer as to the value of it [my italics]."[vi]

At the back of his mind, Blenkinsopp told police, he was concerned that the certificates, together with Westpac's "endorsement," [i.e., the script receipt] could be used by Johnston to perpetrate an "advance fee" fraud against another bank. Whether this concern was Blenkinsopp's own creation, we do not know, but we do know the implication that Johnston was attempting to perpetrate an advance fee fraud was repeatedly raised by his police inquisitors during questioning [vii]. However, there was not one shred of evidence to support such an allegation. 

Blenkinsopp told police that the fax letter from Milder requesting the script receipt additionally requested that he confirm the letter by key tested telex (KTT) to another bank. This is untrue. The instruction merely indicated that he may be asked to do this at a later date. [viii] Blenkinsopp was, he said, at this point thoroughly alarmed, so he decided to telephone a contact at the UBS in Switzerland. When he did so, according to his police statement, he was told the certificates were forgeries. Then, he said, he had faxed copies of the certificate to the Union Bank of Switzerland, Head Office, Zurich. Both actions were strictly speaking unusual in terms of banking protocol -- after all, these were confidential client documents. Thereafter, on the afternoon of 22 February 1995, Blenkinsopp contacted the City of London Fraud Squad. 

A return UBS fax, transmitted at 13.54 on 22 February 1995, stated: "We confirm that Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) never issued such documents. It is a forgery, that means complete fantasy. UBS has nothing to do with these [sic] documents." It was unauthenticated (i.e., it did not possess the usual key test signifying it was an authorised statement of UBS) and it was signed by Rene Schicker, a low level member of UBS Security Services. Schicker was not an authorised officer of UBS.

Earlier, at 13.17, Schicker had sent another fax to Blenkinsopp at Westpac. This stated: 

"We confirm that the Union bank of Switzerland (UBS) never issued such documents. It is a forgery, that means complete fantasy. UBS has nothing to do with the documents. 

We have knowledge about the arrestation [sic] of one person at London Heathrow Airport on 3.11.1994 with similar papers. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. 
Are the 17 certificates originals or copies?" 

Quite why Schicker, or others in the UBS, decided to truncate the first message with the second remains unexplained, as does the question asking if the certificates were originals or copies. Meanwhile, who was the other person arrested? Was he/she charged by police or later set free?





In a telephone conversation with Morris Milder, Johnston's Australian lawyer, Astrid Pankhurst, a barrister for Westpac, told Milder that the police had looked at the certificates and were under no doubt about their fraudulent nature. She then added

"…but the police have advised that they are not interested in this case because there is no attempted fraud on the UK mainland and you know this matter is really outside their jurisdiction."

Pankhurst was being disingenuous, as we shall see. She made this telephone call after consulting with DC Howard of the City of London Police.

She continued the telephone conversation saying that Westpac no longer cared to hold the certificates and that Milder should arrange for them to be collected. Despite Milder's request to speak directly to DC Howard, this did not occur. DC Howard states he was not aware that Milder wished to speak with him. Unusually, Pankhurst refused to confirm any of Westpac's actions or allegations to Milder in writing despite a request to do so. Not least, Milder's phone conversation with Pankhurst was recorded, but Milder was not made privy to this fact. [ix]

In any event, Johnston, unaware of the entrapment in progress, travelled from Australia to London to collect the certificates as requested by Westpac. Arriving at Westpac offices at 3 p.m. on Monday 6 March 1995, he was promptly arrested.

Eighteen months later, during the trial in August 1996, the prosecution presented its expert witness, Claude Mifsud, formerly a senior manager of Lloyds Bank Plc and latterly a consultant in trade finance. Mifsud’s testimony, purportedly supported by his years of experience in international banking transactions, was used by the prosecution to support its contention that the certificate was fraudulent on its face. Mifsud’s testimony did not support this contention, however, because what he told the police was that he was, in fact, unfamiliar with documents of the type in question. In his pre-trial witness statement, he said, "in my experience I have not encountered documentation of this nature and I must admit to finding it difficult to speculate as to the significance of these names and reference number [shown on the certificate]. "His expertise in certificates of deposit did not extend to the specialised world of bullion trading -- an extremely secretive aspect of international finance. 

It must be said here that the instruments used in international banking are highly varied, according to the branch of banking a transaction originates in. Asking an expert in one type of banking transaction to give expert testimony on another branch of banking he has no knowledge of is similar to asking a gynecologist to testify as to a diagnosis of a brain tumour. In this regard, Mifsud was no expert at all, a fact he was the first to point out. 

Despite having its name associated with a major fraud, the UBS, Zurich, refused to send a member of its Zurich Security or Bullion Division (or for that matter anyone from Zurich) to give testimony at the trial. This was in spite of considerable pressure from the police to do so.
However, UBS eventually agreed to have a member of its London staff make a statement to the police. Andrew Furlong, an authorised officer of UBS, London (but not disciplined in bullion trading), in his statement was – surprisingly, considering the gravity of the charges -- unwilling to state the certificates were forgeries. Instead, he merely commented that "UBS did not issue these documents and has nothing to do with them." He added,

"I have consulted our Head Office in Zurich and can categorically confirm that the documents did not emanate from UBS in Zurich."

That was the full extent of his statement. [x] For reasons I explain below, saying a certificate is not “issued by” UBS and does not “emanate from” UBS does not necessarily mean it is a forgery or otherwise fraudulent. Compounding the insufficiency of this testimony is the fact that in law, this type of evidence (that is, a statement of another individual merely repeated by the individual under oath) is known as hearsay and is not generally admitted into evidence. Since it was UBS, Zurichs' allegation that set this ball rolling, it is hard to understand why UBS did not send a gold expert from Zurich to attend the trial. However, it was the only official statement the police were able to obtain from UBS. [xi]

Furlong’s testimony is a far cry from Schicker's earlier charge that the certificate was a "forgery and complete fantasy," -- almost a repudiation, in fact. Johnston and Bristow and their attorney, Morris Milder, believed all along (and did not once conceal the fact) that the certificate was not issued by the UBS but understood it had been issued through the UBS.  UBS was not, therefore, the principal, but rather an agent. The difference is a subtle but important one, as we shall see, but goes a long way to explaining UBS' subsequent actions. The fact is that to have stated in writing, under colour of corporate authority, or in open court, that the certificate was a forgery may have opened the UBS to both criminal and civil charges.

Wolfgang Jentsch is the Managing Director of Commerce Capital Limited, located in Dresha, Germany, with sub offices in Nassau and Vancouver. Possessing a banking background, Jentsch worked for Norddeutschelandesbank between 1970 and '73 and again between 1975 and '79, where he was authorized to make loans up to DM 2 million. He is an expert on the less public side of banking and has considerable knowledge of certain specialized types of certificates of deposit. [xii]

Importantly, Jentsch is familiar with the Byzantine world of gold and gold certificates, and this was the major reason he was asked, and agreed, to act as an expert witness for the defense. His witness statement shows his familiarity with some of the less well known aspects of international banking: "I am aware that Governments in most countries from time to time ask their banks to issue certificates of deposit off balance sheet." This, as Jentsch confirms, means the certificates are issued through, not by, the banks, which, consequently, do not need to establish reserves to pay for the certificates if, and when, they are presented for payment. Instead of being bank obligations, such certificates of deposit are in fact secret Government obligations. 

Jentsch continues:

"[Certificates] … may take many forms and quite possibly will not be in the banking form. They are by their very nature private banking documents and will not be in the public domain." He then shares an interesting insight: 

"One finds that the larger the amount concerned, the closer the circle of those who know becomes. Indeed, in respect of any bank concerned it is rare that the main structure of the bank itself would ever know of their existence and this information is very much the domain of the few."

The former banker also adds an interesting insight to banking in general in this regard. "Another area where such private documents would come into being are in circumstances where, for example, the deposit is made by a controversial depositor." These he explains might be "an unpopular regime," or "a Government involved in a war situation." He expands on this theme in some detail: 

"… if it is a private Government transaction, it may not necessarily be recorded. Legally the Government would not be allowed to. As indicated above, this is more likely to happen when one starts dealing with the less disciplined Governments of the world." 


"The owner of the funds which are subject to the security of the deposit would be given a number of other documents in order to secure that certificate. He would be given a letter which will provide the details of only those persons who would be able to verify the existence of the certificates and he would be given coded security numbers. It is not common but it is possible that as a further security measure the certificate of deposit may include other forms of coding. This may take the form of what would appear to be severe spelling or grammatical errors…This also has the advantage that anybody unauthorized dealing in that certificate would go back to the bank and it would enable the bank to deny all knowledge of it…"[xiii]

The deniability aspect that Jentsch raises was crucial to Johnston's defence. Other experts in the unofficial bullion market have confirmed it is not an uncommon procedure on sensitive transactions to see spelling and grammatical errors.  They, too, understand that governments occasionally issue confidential certificates through banks, which allows the named bank to deny them. 

Evert van Vollenhoven of the Dutch firm of Van Vollenhoven & Schultz Associates is a specialist bullion trader. In his letter dated 23 February 1995, he states that,

"The situation with UBS is as follows: if a bank sends copies of certificates, they answer verbally that they are false but do not dare commit themselves by KTT [Key Tested Telex - in other words full corporate responsibility] to these statements. They can not proof [sic] that these documents are false." 

Van Vollenhoven then added an intriguing fact that may well have a bearing on the mystery of the disappearing paragraphs from the first of the two UBS faxes: 

"This has even gone so far that a bank in London called in the Fraud Squad as to regulations and these investigators, after hearing the bank officials walked out straight away telling them that there was no fraud because UBS had not produced any evidence of such."

He was aware of this situation because it was a transaction he was personally involved with, as he makes clear when he says the "result is that the certificates were not confiscated and again are at our free disposal. "He continued by adding that the "conclusion of all this; these documents are real but the UBS does not want to co-operate in whatever manner with third parties, who, however in their full rights, want the benefit of their own belongings." 

Neither does the German Banker, Wolfgang Jentsch, hold back in his statement further on where he explained:

"Simply approaching the bank on whose paper it has been issued will always result in the bank denying all knowledge of it" [my italics]. He then reveals that "the currency that the certificate of deposit is denominated in is the key to knowing who to approach if one is authorised to do so." "If the document is recorded in US Dollars then the US Federal Reserve must have records in respect of this transaction under those security numbers…." 

Jentsch was handed the entire set of certificates (17 in all) representing the 740 metric tons in the name of UBS. For the record, he stated, categorically, that they are not "public domain documents." The banker then offered his opinion that the potential prejudice to Westpac by issuing the safe keeping receipt would be immediately negated by adding to the receipt language an appropriate comment to the effect that the receipt is "without involvement of value." Westpac did add a paragraph to this effect on its safe custody receipt, as we know. 

Based on this evidence, before trial, the defence felt reasonably confident that Johnston would be found innocent. However, during the trial in August 1996, Jentsch -- who had carefully scrutinized the gold documents during his deposition -- became a de facto prosecution witness by stating the certificates were pure nonsense. With this about-face testimony, Peter Johnston's fate was sealed. What accounts for the turnaround?


[i] The actual charge was "using a false instrument with intent." Johnston's defence was that he believed the instrument to be genuine and that there was no "intent" involved. Having investigated this matter for 2 1/2 years I am satisfied Johnston is telling the truth -- I have read all his papers running into thousands.
[ii] The latter owns Mase Westpac, the banking arm that bought the ill-fated Johnson Mathey Bank when it almost crashed in September 1984. One of five houses to have a "seat" at London's twice daily gold fix, JM was reputed to be less than forthright in its bullion dealings. In fact, its management was close to Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos and according to rumours was laundering some of the Japanese and Nazi gold he had recovered in the years following World War II. More on this later in our story. Informed sources tell me JM was advancing funds against these deposits of "tainted" gold and this triggered a cash crisis in the bank. This led to questions in Parliament where speakers from both the Labour and the Liberal party bared their teeth and have the courage to suggest JM were engaged in a VAT scam on gold. The deeper and far more sensitive story remained unuttered by any spokesman of any party. During its final disgrace, JM almost brought down the other four major London gold banks with it, but with the timely intervention of the Bank of England was rescued by Mase Westpac.
[iii] Compare this amount to the largest known central bank sale of 500 metric tonnes.

[iv] Blenkinsopp's witness statement to City of London police.

[v] Extracted from Hinze's note to Blenkinsopp.

[vi] Blenkinsopp's witness statement to City of London police.

[vii] Johnston's police interrogators were DC Howard and DC Ash of the City of London police. DC Howard is now with the Serious Fraud Office.

[viii] Placing the certificate in a bank's safe keeping was not even Johnston's idea. In fact, the idea came from the gold trader he was then negotiating with. This individual (Source "A" and Source "B" below) required this be done in order that the certificates could then be securely transferred into safe keeping at his own bank, prior to concluding the transaction.

[ix] I have a copy of the transcription of the conversation provided by City of London police.

[x] A copy of his witness statement to the police is in my files.

[xi] Furlong's statement is dated 6 April 1995. I understand from Johnston's London lawyer that the police were sufficiently worried about the UBS statement that a police officer travelled to UBS Zurich in an attempt to obtain a more robust statement and/or have a Zurich representative agree to attend the trial in London as a witness for the prosecution. I note here that during questioning on 21 March 1995, D.C. Howard refers to a letter from UBS dated 8 March 1995, that he says states the documents "are false." This letter does not appear in the trial exhibits (so far as I can see) and I have not seen it. However, D.C. Howard continues by saying that the UBS is providing an authorised bank officer to make a statement. This was a reference to Andrew Furlong. I have repeatedly tried to contact D.C. Howard (now at the SFO) to clarify this point, but my attempts have been in vain.
[xii] His deposition is in my possession.

[xiii] The "holder" of the certificate in question, Indonesian lawyer Dr. Edison Damanik, was in possession of two business cards issued by the UBS. These named Mr. Shaker J. Otwold, UBS Kloten, Switzerland and Mr. A. Stures Honeghen, UBS Basel, Switzerland. Secreted beneath Kloten Airport is Switzerland's largest bullion repository. These cards were mailed to Johnston by Damanik following his arrest -- the implication being that these two individuals were part of the "charmed circle" able to verify the certificates. This location is extremely secretive and most Swiss, UBS employees included, remain unaware of it, as I discovered in my efforts to track down Mr. Otwold. As at this date of writing Otwold and Honeghen remain "ghosts," despite their colourful business cards, which are in my possession. However, for those with a taste for mysteries, it is interesting to observe that the giant UBS transacts all its bullion dealing through a subsidiary, the Anglo-German, American, Warburg, Dillon Read, located at Glattbrugg, close to Kloten.





Nine months after Johnston's arrest, but eight months before the trial, an odd article appeared on the front page of the London Times. [i] It stated that "City of London police have launched an official investigation into the fraudulent use of certificates of deposit and the Bank of England has warned the public not to fall for the latest batch of certificates." The article continued, "The Bank said yesterday that the latest batch of certificates, often supported by 'official looking' documentation and using named deposit holders such as international politicians, presidents and royalty are 'fraudulent and extreme caution should be exercised in dealing with any party seeking to transact business on the strength of them.'"

In the view of Johnston's Australian lawyer, this article was directed at Johnston and could have prejudiced his defence. The 740 MT certificate was in the name of Mr. Patrick Hillery, former President of the Irish Republic. [ii] Moreover, a number of other certificates Johnston was authorised to negotiate on behalf of "The Last Legal Holder" all named well-known "politicians, presidents and royalty."

It is appropriate to ask why the Bank of England was so concerned for “members of the public.” I ask this question because the 740MT certificate had a market value of US$8.5 billion. And this was one of the smallest certificates that Johnston had access to. A larger one bore a price tag close to a whopping US$100 billion. Members of the public do not have pockets that deep.

Had the Bank of England entertained genuine concerns, it could readily have issued a confidential circular to all the licensed banks in the City and, via the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), to all licensed bullion dealers. Issuing a press release was provocative, to say the least. It makes better sense to consider the bank's action as a specific and subtle warning directed at somebody who believed the certificates were genuine and who could afford to pay this sort of money. In other words, a de facto cease and desist notice to any potential buyer of the certificate. But, is this likely? 

The fact is that Johnston and his partners were in the process of negotiating this and other certificates, and the Bank of England knew it. I have spoken to a number of gold traders who, at the time of the press release, were keen to buy several of Johnston's certificates, including the disputed 740 MT. All were fully aware of the circumstances of his earlier arrest and his forthcoming trial. [iii] They were also aware of the "extremely sensitive " background of the certificates.

One of these individuals was Bruce Mead, Managing Director of the Millsmead Group. Mead told me quite openly that the reason he pulled out of the deal was due to the negative publicity. Since the Bank of England press release was the only article that had appeared at that time (at least to my knowledge) the potential sources for his fear are sharply narrowed.
Mead and his partner, Mary Mills, represent a number of major European banks. Figuratively speaking, they act as fig-leafs to eclipse the banks’ involvement in black market gold transactions. In this instance, Mead was the mandate for Michael J. Summers, an authorised bullion dealer on behalf of the giant French state- owned bank, Credit Lyonnais. In this capacity, Mead -- nine months after Johnston's arrest -- had issued a full corporate offer to purchase the 740 MT certificate after Summers had scrutinised the various documents. 

Mead's letter of offer, a binding contract of intent (and financial ability) to purchase the bullion on behalf of his principals (Summers/Credit Lyonnais) was dated 13 December 1995. Intriguingly, this was just two days before publication of the article in the London Times to which reference is made above. [iv] Could this be the real explanation of the extraordinary BoE press briefing? 

Mead told me that he had conducted a "soft probe" on the certificate and the results strongly indicated it was genuine. [v] The probe was carried out by the Bank of England, I was told. [vi] Having pulled out of the deal, Mead then made various attempts, on Johnston's behalf, to get related papers back into Johnston's custody. He told me he believed "Peter was innocent" and was subject to a political intrigue and added, "Peter had good paperwork." Moreover, he continued to express interest in purchasing other certificates in Johnston's possession right through to February 1996 but for a variety of unrelated reasons this wasn't possible. [vii]

In an article published in the Irish Times on Monday, 6 May 1996, reporter Denis Staunton states that Dr. Patrick Hillery, the alleged owner of the 740 MT certificate "expressed astonishment" that his name was linked to the certificate. Hillery then added that the signature on the certificate "wasn't anything like my signature." The former Irish president added an unusual afterthought: "It wasn't even an attempt to be my signature."

This statement was further enforced in Dr. Hillery's brief letter to Johnston's solicitor dated 27 November 1995, which says: "I have examined the documents which you enclosed with your letter and wish to state that the signature on them is not my signature." This is entirely correct. None of the signatures on this or other certificates are -- or even contrive to be -- facsimiles of the signature of the stated holder. However, in the mysterious world of government secrets, there may be an explanation for this. 

The 740 MT certificate actually constituted numerous documents: the certificate itself plus supporting documents, heritage certificates, supporting documents and government documents. One of these “heritage” certificates refers to another party in the form of the guarantee “holder” – whatever that means. Under the heading “B.L.D. GUARANTEE HOLDER” is the name “Hassan King II,” undoubtedly a reference to King Hassan of Morocco, who became King in 1962 following the death of his father. Hassan died in July 1999. 

Johnston's instructions from "The Legal Last Holder" were that all these documents would have to be forensically proven at the time of sale. Just one missing page would void all the other papers. Validating the certificates also meant validating the heritage documents, and it was these that identify the actual holder -- albeit by various codes. This procedure, as Jentsch made clear in his deposition (see Chapter 1.1), is designed to protect the identity of an "unpopular regime" and also avoids embarrassment to the bank and/or government for dealing with unsavoury characters. 

In this regard, Johnston had earlier been in contact with another gold trader, Tirath Ram, an Indian citizen resident and trading in the North of England. Gold plays a large part in Indian life and, in fact, the global jewelry fabrication business is centred in that country. Ram had undertaken to "probe" the validity of the 740 MT certificate [for the purpose of exploring a purchase] and on 14 February 1995, sent Johnston a copy of a fax he claimed had been sent to him by a "contact" in the Bullion Department of the Bank of England. I doubt that this fax -- which had the top and bottom removed to avoid identifying the source, did originate with the Bank of England. For one thing, it is customary in England to always date a letter by day, month and year.  In this instance, the fax was dated in the American style with the month, day and year, in that order, and, moreover, contains word usage common in America.

Ram was clearly protecting his source, which is understandable, but appears to have made a critical error in his haste to impress Johnston (a flaw common amongst gold brokers). Hoping to buy the gold represented by the certificates and other associated documents, Ram, it seems, had meanwhile offered it for sale through one of the largest US bullion banks -- Citibank -- which evidently originated the fax.

In any event, the author of the fax was clearly in possession of highly confidential and sensitive information that no one else associated with this transaction was aware of -- including Johnston and his partners. The full text of the letter is as follows: 

Mr. Tirath Ram February 14 1995
Friends Corporation
By fax 
Dear Mr. Ram,
Further to our discussion this evening I make the following comments from our experience with UBS certificates which may or may not prove to be relevant in this instance. 
It is imperative that when the Government requests authentication through Citibank it has all the correct data which may include but may not be limited to: 
#The original Heritage Document - this is a document declaring non-beneficial ownership between the named party on the certificate and the real owner. 
#Any "code-words", "code-letters" & key bars that have to be disclosed to demonstrate ownership. 
#Any other special arrangements made between UBS and the owners. 
You will understand that these arrangements in the main were designed by UBS not so much to protect the holder from loss, but to ensure that UBS never lost the AU BULLION from its control. 
Please have the seller provide as much detail on the background of the certificate etc. 
Yours sincerely 

Even a brief examination of Dr. Hillery's statement causes admiration for the ingenuity of political wordplay. At no point (either publicly or privately) did Dr. Hillery state the certificate was fraudulent, only that it did not represent (or even attempt to) his signature.

In fact Hillery's statements to the press and to Johnston's lawyer are brief and possess the air of one entirely disinterested with the affair. A strange reaction for a retired statesman whose name is being bandied about in a fraud case. A measure of Dr. Hillery's unusual disinterest is encapsulated in the following remark. Telling Denis Staunton that he has "never heard of Dr. Damanik," and that the only time he has visited Indonesia "was in 1985” when he “stopped in Jakarta on his way to Australia for a state visit," he added "I'm just retired now playing golf."
However, the holder of these certificates, Dr. Damanik, appeared to know Patrick Hillery well enough when he referred to him as "that crazy Irishman." Damanik also told Johnston that he (Hillery) would require US$2 million to clear the transaction. Sadly, this can no longer be confirmed, because Dr. Edison Damanik, the "Last Legal Holder," died in America in 1997. His death was from illness, it is said, and followed his sudden "disappearance" months earlier from his residence in Jakarta. At all times, Damanik appeared to be kept on a short leash. An American, Frederick Robinson, who resided in Dr. Damanik's house, was clearly disliked by both Dr. and Mrs. Damanik -- who referred to him in private as the "Black Sparrow." Another American, Paul V. Morse, lived in a nearby hotel and was Damanik's "signatory." Johnston, who had visited Damanik at home a number of times, understood these two individuals to be CIA or similar, but had no way of knowing this for certain. [viii]

Staunton in his article also mentions that "One British trader came close to buying the gold earlier this year. He withdrew after the UBS questioned the certificate's authenticity." A good and honest reporter, Staunton had either made a critical factual mistake or had been misled[?] [ix] The "trader" he mentions in his article is, in fact, Bruce Mead, who (as I stated earlier) told me he withdrew due to the negative publicity. [x] A former member of British Army Intelligence, Mead was fully aware of Johnston's legal complications with the UBS. Critically, Mead had issued his RWA letter months before Staunton ever spoke with him and nine months after Johnston's arrest.  [xi] Moreover, during this telephone conversation, Mead said he did not think well of the UBS. This came as no surprise to me. In my previous incarnation in the City of London, the UBS in Switzerland was often discussed for what some believed to be its unethical conduct and deviousness.


[i] Dated 15 December 1996.
[ii] On the certificates, Hillery's name appeared as "Patrick J. Hillery" and was also rendered as "Patric J. Hillery." The typographical "error" is typical of other certificates in Johnston's possession.
[iii] I have read (and have copies of) the correspondence between Johnston and these other parties. There is no question that they knew precisely and fully what had and was transpiring. All believed the arrest and trial were politically motivated. All accepted the certificates to be genuine but "extremely sensitive."
[iv] I am in possession of a copy of the Ready, Willing and Able to purchase letter (known simply as RWA), dated, signed and sealed. It was valid, curiously enough, until 23.00 hours on 15 December 1995.
[v] A soft probe is a mechanism where the certificates identifying numbers and other codes are verified "on screen" by the issuing or controlling government. In this case it was the Federal Reserve Bank of America. The probe was conducted via a third party (the broker's European bank) with the Bank of England.
[vi] I directly asked Mead, whom the probe was conducted by. He refused to name the party. I then suggested that it might have been "an authority in Threadneedle Street?" Mead's response was "I wouldn't disagree with that." Telephone conversation with this writer 5 December 1996.
[vii] During a telephone conversation almost a year later, Mead said that "Damanik" did not have the authority to sell the gold, but would not elaborate on this. However, see further on the story regarding Sources "A" and "B" and the 1972 meeting.
[viii] Morse lived in the nearby Citraland Hotel. His room cost $120.00 a day and he remained in residence for 8 months, leading Johnston to question “who paid his expenses?”
[ix] There are reasons to suspect the latter.
[x] Unknown to Mead and numerous others, Johnston had given me his entire files on these transactions, including copies of all correspondence, telephone notes etc.
[xi] In his letter dated 6 November 1995, to a colleague, he states (in part) "Mr. Johnston freely admitted that he had trouble when he showed these documents to the UBS in London and that they tried to call in the UK police saying he was carrying false documentation." He continues "I think it is a balance between a crooked offer, but they do not realise it is crooked, or the real thing but the UBS do not want to admit it. You know our views on the UBS and we shall therefore approach this subject very carefully. I always groan when I see gold offers that involves that particular bank because we all know that their appearance in the transaction materially reduced the chance of there ever being a conclusion." Just over a month later his caution had given way to some confidence when he issued his letter confirming he was "ready, willing and able" to buy the gold.





Throughout the period between his arrest and conviction, Johnston continued to also negotiate with another gold broker, this one in Germany. This company, which I cannot identify for reasons of confidentiality, acted as a cover to conceal the identity of a "mandate" acting on behalf of the principal -- a powerful private syndicate of banks, trusts and foundations.
The mandate operates out of the Northern Germany. He is extremely well connected to the German establishment and has regular access to diplomatic bags that he uses to transmit confidential correspondence. He acts on behalf of "the most powerful and influential private syndicate in the world," according to his letter to Johnston dated 12 April 1995. All these parties were fully informed of Johnston's legal "troubles" as they arose. [i]

Since we are dealing with two individuals who represented the same ultimate buyers (the syndicate), and since I cannot name either, I will, for convenience sake, call the first "Source A" and the second "Source B." Source A was the initial point of contact and was subordinate to Source B. After a few days of negotiation, Source A sent a letter to Johnston. Headed STRICTLY PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL, the letter stated: 

"Further to our conversation earlier today, we would confirm to you that we have been given the 'Green Light' to proceed with caution."

He then adds, by way of explanation, that they had conducted a "soft probe through our people to ensure as far as possible that we had a real situation."

If coincidence equates to sod's law of mishap and cock-up, then it should come as no surprise that this letter was dated 21 February 1995. That very same day saw Westpac's David Blenkinsopp fax copies of Johnston's documents to the UBS. This, in turn, triggered the inevitable reaction if you believe what German banker, Wolfgang Jentsch had to say. In any event, the City of London police were notified and, together with Westpac staff, set out to entrap Johnson.

The subsequent arrest and fraud charge directed at Johnston is, in my opinion, utterly absurd. I have read and re-read thousands or pages of private correspondence and witness transcripts provided by Johnston about this matter. A child, unencumbered by bias, could readily determine that Johnston and his partners observed strict honesty and professional integrity at all times. They always, without exception, made it totally clear to all potential buyers that the latter must undertake their own due diligence and establish the bona fides of the certificates.

In fact, it is the established market procedure when negotiating the purchase of gold bullion certificates for the buyer to "prove up" the paperwork -- unless specified to the contrary. This is no different from any other business including retail purchasing where the universal watchwords are "let the buyer beware." 

This is especially the case, moreover, when dealing with sensitive Secret or Private Treaty documents. All buyers involved in this and related transactions were aware of the sensitivity involved and openly committed themselves to their own professional obligation to conduct validating enquiries. They all undertook these measures without complaint or disfavour. These "probes" repeatedly showed Johnston's documentation was solid and was of sufficient validity for each to then issue Corporate "Ready Willing and Able" (RWA) to purchase letters, signifying their agreement to move to the next stage of negotiations.

This raises numerous important questions. If the potential buyers (none of them members of the public), after conducting rigorous due diligence investigations, were content to proceed to the next stage in purchasing the certificates, where is the crime? The charge of fraud implies deception, but in Johnston's case there was no deception. On the contrary, Johnston told all concerned of his arrest, of the UBS allegation and his upcoming trial and also repeatedly stated that the buyer must validate the certificates in line with market procedure. He was also quite open in saying he believed the certificates to be genuine, but could not state categorically that they were. What more could he do?

The events as outlined raise the possibility, at least in my cynical mind, that someone somewhere was watching and listening to Johnston. This is especially so when recalling that Bruce Mead issued his purchase letter to Johnston just two days before the article appeared in the London Times. At stake, when one includes all the certificates under Johnston's control, was a staggering US$300 billion worth of gold. This does not include the large quantity of gemstones, platinum, foreign currency and, in fact, three even larger gold certificates in the possession of the Last Legal Holder.  

A number of subsequent letters and telephone conversations from both Source A and Source B have a considerable bearing on this story: 

Source A phone call 27 June 1995:(3 months after arrest)

"The assets [certificates] are genuine and authentic." 

"In 1972 forty-eight (48) countries signed off a convention as to the assets under the Doctor's [Damanik] control." 

"This is a political red hot potato…" 

The Federal Reserve/IMF have given in principal proof for a Government entity to lease/purchase the assets…" 

Source B letter dated 12 April 1995: (1 month after arrest)

"… any prospective buyer… needs Federal approval. My principals have that approval." 
Source B letter dated 12 July 1995: (3 months after arrest)

"Firstly, the contract format enclosed is the ONLY means of transacting this proposal successfully. It would not be possible to 'buy' this amount without destroying the existing market and with it, the Western economy. I do not overstate the fact. The transaction will be overseen by representatives of several authorities including the Federal Reserve and the IMF…" 

"It is our estimation that total integration of these transactions into the world monetary system will be in excess of forty years…" 

Source B letter dated 21 September 1995: (6 months after arrest)

"… I take this opportunity to re-affirm that the position of my principals remains unchanged. We are ready to transact immediately for any and all of the Metal and paper currently held under signature of Dr. Damanik…" 
The last is interesting in that the principals clearly understood that Dr. Damanik (the Last Legal Holder) was not the owner of the certificates and underlying gold metal, but rather a conduit. This fact is repeated again and again, by both sources. In fact, they appeared to know a great deal more about Damanik's past activities than did Johnston: 

Source A letter dated 7 July 1995: (4 months after arrest)

"The Dr. has issued in the last few years, no less than seven mandates [Johnston being the latest]. Those mandates were withdrawn three weeks ago." 

"No mention of this transaction must be leaked in any way to any one. If it is leaked, the whole matter will become very serious indeed and I have been informed that we could face very serious consequences." 
Source A letter dated 28 June 1995: (3 months after arrest)

"We trust you fully understand and appreciate our verbal explanation of why the assets under the signatory control of Dr. Damanik, have not been given approval by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the I.M.F., since 1972, inclusive of our proposed transactions and same for any transaction that would generate profits by hypothecating the assets value into a Trading Programme." 

"Simply, or politically, the West, Fed's and the I.M.F. will not and can not allow the magnitude of the profits, the power and the worlds financial foundation to be put at risk by the unknown and uncontrolled utilisation of the proposed profits." 

Source A letter dated 19 June 1995 (3 months after arrest)

"We have been warned and instructed that nothing of this transaction should become common knowledge and any leakage would result in the closing down of this project." 

"We are given information only on a face to face basis by a representative of GOVERNMENT. This Government has given explicit instructions that nothing at all should be stated on open telephone or fax, only by face to face contact. Our faxes and phones are being constantly monitored as are yours, even if you do not know it." 
Australians do not enjoy being ordered around, especially by Poms. The content of some of these statements was sufficient to light a blue touch paper and matters soon became acrimonious. In Source A's letter dated 7 July 1995, wrangling and intransigence had appeared to cause, according to the writer, a response from the US Feds:

‘The Feds 'have now instructed that all papers appertaining to this transaction in the hands of the syndicating banks to be shredded immediately." The writer added: 'The transaction has to be cleaned and started again from scratch.'" 

When I telephoned and spoke to Source A, on 28 November 1996, the individual was audibly shaken and clearly scared. After some minutes and my dropped comment that I had copies of all his correspondence, he agreed to speak, providing I withheld his name. He had been advised not to speak of this subject by "unofficial channels," he said. He confided these channels were "US Intelligence." In a still later conversation, he identified this as the FBI. Meanwhile, he related he had been "instructed" to shred all documents related to the gold certificates. Finally, he said that publication of the story could wreck the western economy. So far, I have been unable to speak directly with Source B.

Both Bruce Mead and Source A, at one time or another, stated that the stories of Nazi and Japanese gold were true. Oddly, I had not posed this question or even hinted at it, but it was to prove a vitally important avenue of investigation. However, during my late 1998 telephone call with Source A, I specifically asked the origin of Dr. Damanik's gold. "Marcos," was the one word reply. 






So who is this mysterious Dr. Edison Damanik who has access to so much gold? Born 30 November 1930, in Pematang, Slantr City, Northern Sumatra, he later lived in the USA where he studied for his Doctoral degree. He later travelled widely in Europe and Asia before returning to live in Indonesia. He was a former Indonesian policeman holding the rank of Inspector.

Johnston understood he was an "adviser" to President Suharto and a "consultant" to the Suharto Government. This has been confirmed by his son, Petrus, who said his father had a "connection" with President Suharto as well as the Central Bank of Indonesia. Moreover, during a trip to Switzerland in 1995, Johnston had a brief, chance meeting with the daughter of former President Sukarno, who was accompanied by French-Canadian attorney, Guy Lassard. During this meeting, Sukarno's daughter expressed her knowledge of the certificates and proclaimed they were genuine. 

Damanik, meanwhile, was the Chairman of a financial entity titled P.T. Galaxy Trust with a registered address in Tomang, Jakarta. Johnston told the Police what he knew of the background and history of this trust during his interrogation. Originally, a trust had been founded in the late 18th century, called the Molexi Trust and was registered in Hong Kong. This was one of seven trusts in operation, each with its own trustee/director, but Dr. Damanik was the last surviving trustee for all of these. Johnston and Bristow, in piecing this information together, concluded that the seven trusts had been connected to the seven wills of Cecil Rhodes. In any event, Molexi Trust appears to have been absorbed by a new entity, P.T. Galaxy Trust, in the late 1920's or early 1930's. All the gold certificates and other financial papers (platinum, gemstones, cash deposits etc) were now nominally owned by P.T. Galaxy Trust. 

There is no question that this trust exists and that Johnston was legally empowered to negotiate various gold and platinum certificates (and other valuables) on its behalf. I have in my files hundreds of pages of documents, letters of authority and other papers attesting to this fact. Nor do I doubt that these certificates were of substance. Dozens of different companies and banks around the world had issued corporate offers to buy them. This included, as we have seen, a state-owned bank in France, Credit Lyonnais, as well as a shadowy and hitherto unidentified "syndicate." Others have included, Phillip Morris, the massive American tobacco company and, in fact, the Government of France, in the form of the Interior Ministry's own company SOFREMI (Societe Francaise D'Exportation de Materials, Systems et Services du Ministere de L'Interieur). Their letter dated 25 May 1996 was addressed to: "last legal holder of International Guarantee Certificate - Dr. Damanik," and bore the reference "96/21-BP/MV/2945. It was headed "LETTER OF INTENT." 

The text of the letter is straightforward and to the point: "We are willing and able to work with certain international gold guarantee certificates. We would like to present to your attention Mr. Nicholas Marorslavac, Administrative and Financial Director of SOFREMI." It was signed Bernard Poussier, Executive Vice President. 

I felt this was of some significance and, therefore, asked a high level financier I was acquainted with to verify the letter. He confirmed that Mr. Poussier was the EVP of SOFREMI, and that the signature purporting to be his was a good likeness. [ii]

Damanik told Johnston and Bristow some, but not all, of the background to the origin of the certificates. He said they resulted from a "Private Secret Treaty" that arose in 1954. He also said this had to do with the Bandung meeting that was held in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955. This was the first ever meeting of the Non Aligned Nations. Attending the meeting were numerous heads of state and other senior government representatives.  Included, was China's Chou En Lai, who the CIA planned to assassinate during the meeting. Not least, Damanik said the certificates were to do with "Rhodes scholars, who are the keepers of the currency."

Other certificates Johnston was authorised to negotiate included, as named holders:

  • Mao Tze Tung

  • Mr. Todor Zhivkon

  • Augusto Pinochet

  • Mr. Kim Il Sung

  • Mr. Ferdinand Marcos

  • Mr. King of Bhumibol (King of Thailand)

  • Adnan Kasogi

  • Hosni Muburak

  • Chaim Herzog

Almost without exception, these names have been misspelled, incorrectly titled or possess other grammatical flaws, such as that for "Mrs. Queen Elizabeth II," - also rendered on other documents as "Mrs. Elizabeth Queen II." 

Not only do the foregoing, in most cases, form an international rogues gallery of some of the most gruesome and bloody dictators in recent history, but most are known to have been eminently corruptible. [iii] Meanwhile, if forgeries they are -- something that I sincerely doubt -- then the master forger should be hung for these slipshod errors.

This is not, however, reflected elsewhere on the certificates, which are otherwise of an immaculate standard. Whoever it was that prepared these documents, clearly was expert and went to a great deal of time and effort. For example, the quality of the paper, the ink, the various designs, artwork and presentation are first class.

In my earlier career in the City I have handled almost every form of "bank paper" ever issued (from bearer bonds to stock certificates and certificates of deposit and bills of exchange through to promissory notes -- and many others besides) and I have rarely seen such quality as these. [iv] Therefore, it strikes me as very odd indeed, that a person (or persons) capable of producing such high standards and intricacy of detail would fall foul of such elementary mistakes as spelling errors and the misrepresentation of correct titles. For this to occur once or twice is, in my view, extremely unlikely but just about feasible. But, for it to happen in every case defies belief.

Moreover, it is worth repeating that each certificate was in reality a set of documents. For the 740 MT, this consisted of 17 certificates and 20 Heritage documents. Printed front and back in fine detail, the entire "set," totalled 74 different pieces of artwork. This alone demonstrates that these documents represented a considerable investment in time and effort.

Earlier, I discussed the witness statement of German banker Wolfgang Jentsch, in which he outlined a series of steps that required being followed to validate secret Government documents of this type. Johnston, in fact, received very detailed instructions from Dr. Damanik in this respect. These were as follows: 

"Irrespective of the fact that the papers may bear the name of a well known Prime bank, these papers are Government papers issued under Private or Secret Treaty between the Government Ministry of Finance and the Holder using the named Prime Bank [s] as a vehicle only, and at a level of strictly limited access; i.e., at a minimum level of Corporate/Government banking. These types of transaction exist due to the fact that the value of the transactions were/are beyond the capacity and/or resources that many Prime Banks can commercially handle with full and diligent risk management; therefore the Government would guarantee the transaction's security and/or yield with the sanction of the IMF." [v]

These instructions consist of three A4 sized, single spaced paragraphs of text that I do not intend to repeat verbatim here. However, suffice it to say that this stipulated that validation could only take place on a Government to Government basis through "the United States Federal Reserve Bank." [vi] Damanik was even more specific when he mentioned the name of Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Fed. He also added that the certificates were "… extremely politically sensitive and are issued by various Governments using the notated Prime Banks as a vehicle only." [vii] The clarity of this last statement speaks for itself. 

Each potential buyer was issued with these instructions and provided with a diagram that showed the route they had to take. In a simplified form this was: buyer contacts their domestic Government MoF/Central Bank who contacts the US Federal Reserve. The Fed then contact the issuing Government MoF/Central Bank who contacts the issuing "vehicle" bank. Any response must move back along this chain to the buyer. If the response is satisfactory, the buyer can then proceed to purchase the certificate and underlying gold bullion. In the event that the buyer chose to contact the IMF, a different procedure was to be employed. [viii]

In the Spring of 1998, following Damanik's death, his wife Mrs. Etty Purnama-Damanik, "in her personal and corporate capacity for and on behalf of the legal beneficiary/owner," instructed Johnston and Bristow to forward all original documents to Kontas Investments Limited, a corporate entity with a registered address in Basel, Switzerland. [ix] This was to facilitate a "reorganisation" of Dr. Damanik's assets. 

This brought to the end four years hard and gruelling work for Johnston and Bristow. The cost of their efforts had been horrendous. Both had lost their houses, their entire savings and in Johnston's case, his liberty for twelve months, plus tarnishing his reputation. Neither of them had earned a penny in the process and, in fact, calculate that the venture cost them a total of A$1 million.  [x]



[i] This, as you will see, did not even remotely inhibit their enthusiasm to purchase a number of bullion certificates Johnston was offering. In fact, none of those lining up to purchase gold from Johnston took the slightest heed of his arrest (other than offering commiserations for his bad luck). Without an exception, all were convinced there was substance to the gold certificates and regarded the intervention of the authorities as bothersome and politically motivated.

[ii] .For personal reasons, however, he felt it unwise for him to make direct contact with SOFREMI to verify further.

[iii] One notable name is obvious by its absence, in my view: Suharto.

[iv] The closest match in quality in my experience are bearer bonds. 

[v] Drawn from notes provided to me by Johnston and Bristow. Interestingly, each certificate had IMF codes printed on it.

[vi] These pages were prepared by Johnston and Bristow under the specific direction of Dr. Damanik.

[vii] Another individual who was negotiating some of these certificates was an authorised intermediary for an Eastern European Government. This individual, operating through the Central Bank contacted Alan Greenspan at the US Federal Reserve. I have a copy of the preliminary faxed reply.

[viii] Using the "vehicle" banks as a guide the following Governments appear to be those party to the Secret Treaty: Korea, Switzerland, Hong Kong (i.e., United Kingdom), United States, Sweden, Canada, Australia and France. All told there are 19 sets of documents representing gold bullion (AU), Platinum (PT) and substantial (tens of billions US dollar equivalent) cash deposits in Canadian Dollars, US Dollars and Swiss Francs. Other documents concerned large carat diamonds.

[ix] Mrs. Puranama-Damanik's letter dated 28 April 1998.

[x] Meanwhile, the Eastern European Government intermediary referenced above has been in contact with Kontas Investments. During a meeting in London in summer 1998, he told me he felt that the certificates had become too well known and that restricting access via Kontas was a wise decision.

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