All that glitters is not gold, warns Kavan Ratnatunga
The prospect of owning treasure has led many Lankans
to invest fortunes on fake gold coins. Recent articles in the Sinhala
media, report on a gang now in custody who are said to have swindled
millions from gullible members of the public.
The racket is widespread. In early July this year,
a member of the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society, visited me with a
co-worker who said he had a friend who claimed to know a farmer
who had found a Nidana (treasure). They showed me three small coins
they said had been determined to be 24 kt gold.
The farmer had claimed to have found 3.1 kilos
of gold coins in a clay pot, two feet underground, and was interested
in finding a buyer. The sample coins were not of a recognized type.
One had a Sun symbol with 10 radial rays on one side and a single
central dot on the reverse. It was 9 mm in diameter and 2 mm thick.
About the size of a copper coin known as Varagan, weighing 1.9 grams,
it had the density of gold.
I was, however, suspicious, for all known medieval
gold kahavanu are never pure gold (24 kt) and are less than about
I agreed to investigate to ensure that if this
claim was genuine, the treasure would not be melted for gold. On
requesting that a larger sample of about 100 coins be made available
for detailed study, I was first told that such a sample would be
brought to Colombo, but then the contact was asked to bring cash
and collect them from a location in the Anuradhapura district.
When he drove there he was told the hoard had
been sold to someone else. The sellers had clearly not wanted the
items checked by anyone knowledgeable.
I had kept one of the sample gold coins and showed
it to some knowledgeable coin dealers in Fort. They were well aware
of this gold coin scam which has been going on for over a decade.
Many like this one are just fantasy designs made by forgers with
no numismatic knowledge. Some, however, are replicas of known gold
kahavanu or fractions.
An example gifted to me by a dealer, a gold plated
silver replica of a medieval Lankan Pala ( Quarter Kahavanu ) type
III with Jasmine flower and Chank was 13 mm in diameter, 1.2 mm
thick and 1.2 grams in weight. One needs to be an expert to identify
this as a modern fake.
One is reminded of a comment in 1907 by John Still
in his papers in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Ceylon
Branch, Vol 19 #58. On page 164 he puts a footnote to the word "genuine".
I quote "How rare genuine specimens are I am inclined to think
very few people thoroughly recognize. Gold "Lankesvaras"
and "Vijaya Bahus' are turned out wholesale in Kandy now, and
are so skilfully done that most of them are duly absorbed into collections.
The improved manufacture of late is marked."
The dealers described to me the sequence of events,
exactly as it was more recently published in articles.
First a few sample coins made of gold are sent
through brokers, to establish an interest. The hoard is offered
at gold price or below, with a claim of much higher antiquity value.
The seller requires the buyer to visit a remote place to obtain
the hoard. A parcel is shown which appears to have gold coins like
the sample coins. Some who have got caught to this trick have later
found out the coins in the hoard unlike the samples were either
gold plated copper or silver coins. Sometimes even small pieces
of scrap iron were at the bottom of the parcel for weight.
In one case, the buyer was almost kidnapped and
held to ransom, when he was taken on foot into a forest. In another
case the buyer had given the seller, bundles of paper in which only
the top and bottom Rs. 1000 notes were currency. Each trying to
con the other, didn't check what they were given. The seller having
found that he had not got the cash he expected, phoned the Police
and had the buyer arrested for possession of an archaeological hoard.
The Archaeological Department determined that the items were fake
coins and not antiques and those arrested were released.
(The writer maintains an educational website
on 2300 years of Lankan coins at http://lakdiva.org/coins/
and is Vice President of the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society)
you find a treasure
The Antiquities Act, No.
24 of 1998 (amending the 1940 Antiquities Ordinance) requires
that any genuine discovery of antiquities of significant value,
be reported within seven days to the Director General of Archaeology
via the local police and Government Agent. If the find is
retained by the Archaeological Department, the finder is rewarded
with the market value if it was found on his own property,
or shared 50-50 with the owner of the property in which the
treasure was found.
So, if you find significant treasure, carefully preserve
any other items found with the treasure. If possible, photographically
document the exact location and depth of the site and report
the discovery to the Archaeological Department as soon as
the Irida Lankadeepa of August 13 reported the story
have warned the public not to fall prey to conmen selling
gold coins at cheap prices following the arrest of two members
of a gang that swindled businessmen islandwide for over Rs.
40 million. The two were part of a gang selling fake gold
coins that they claimed were part of a buried treasure and
were arrested with 700 of the fake coins in the Kakirawa Madatugama
Reserve by a team of District Officers of the Special Crime
Operations Unit of the Police Headquarters.
The suspected ringleader is reported to be an Army deserter.
He is said to have identified proprietors of jewellery stores
and millionaire businessmen through negotiators in various
regions and then used them as targets to carry out this scam.
Having told them that he was in possession of 7 kg of gold
coins that he had obtained from a buried treasure, and that
they could obtain this for a sum of Rs. 5 million, he would
then summon them to jungle areas in various parts of the country
to complete the transaction.
Upon receiving information about the scam, Senior DIG I.
Sirisena Herath assigned OIC Rohan Mahesh, Sub Inspector of
the Special Operations Unit to nab the suspects.
Disguised as a Muslim businessman, SI Mahesh, along with
a group of businessmen from Bandaragama located some of the
negotiators for the gang and expressed interest in purchasing
these coins. OIC Gunasena, Police Inspector at Bandaragama
planned the operation.
With the help of the negotiators, one of the gang-leaders
masquerading as a monk was identified. The Sub Inspectors
disguised as businessmen as well as businessmen from Bandaragama
went with him to the Kakirawa Madatugama Reserve with the
When they reached the Reserve, only two of the men were
allowed into the forest. SI Mahesh used the opportunity to
enter the forest along with a businessman from Bandaragama
while instructing the others to keep watch near the area.
About half a mile into the forest, they were stopped by
two persons who appeared to be forest-dwellers, a tactic used
by the gang.
A man suspected to be the head of the gang came forward
and urged them to hurry, warning them that the Police could
be on their tracks. The Army deserter who was said to be the
ringleader of the gang was also among those who had come for
the money. Just as the transaction was taking place SI Mahesh
pulled out his firearms to arrest the gang members. The Army
deserter put up a struggle which caused the SI to fire several
shots into the air. Although this brought the other police
officers to the scene, the ringleader as well as the monk
in disguise were able to escape.
The Police say that the suspects have swindled people in
various districts such as Halawatha, Bandaragama, Kurunegala,
Dambulla, Wattala, Wellawatte and Beruwala. Over 30 complaints
have been lodged in police stations all over the country.
Among those swindled have been professionals such as bank