Isarescu: Romania Asserts Full Ownership of Evacuated Gold Treasure Deposited in Moscow


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The governor of the National Bank of Romania stated on Monday at a specialized symposium that Romania has a fully valid historical and legal claim over its gold deposit evacuated to Moscow in 1916-1917. Joining the Allies in August 1916 within WWI, Romania soon faced an extremely challenging situation due to battles on two fronts in Transylvania and along the Danube. Therefore, as early as September 1916, the National Bank of Romania took the first measures to secure its gold treasury.

This year marks 107 years since Romania’s treasury was evacuated to Moscow in December. Since 1991, the National Bank of Romania has consistently implemented a strategy to present to the domestic and international public the issue of the treasury sent to Moscow and subsequently seized by the Soviet Union. A more than century-old claim of Romania. This is not our first action in this direction. Upon Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe in 1995, Romania, along with other former communist states, presented proposals for the restitution of assets confiscated by the Soviet Union. At that time, the Council’s committee on legal affairs and human rights recognized that these issues should be resolved among the interested member states.

Russia did not accept this discussion even at the expert level, under the pretext that Moscow was discussing a draft law on the restitution of material assets belonging to other states that were deposited in the USSR during the war. 

Subsequently, the Russian experts’ cited draft law was rejected by the State Duma of Russia. This development made it clear that there was a need to inform the international public accurately based on indisputable documents. 

This meant informing historians, researchers, politicians, diplomats, and ultimately European decision-makers. 

Consequently, our main concern, I say, the concern of the National Bank, was to make known the documents we hold regarding this issue. I am referring to the original documents, emphasizing original, compiled in the special file kept in the safe of the Governor of the National Bank since 1922.

The Treasury file has been handed down from one governor to another since 1922, including during the communist period. I received it as well—as evidence of the National Bank of Romania’s determination to recover its assets. The Director of the Iasi branch of the National Bank received instructions to wait for Director Theodor Căpitanovici at the station on “Thursday, September 8, five o’clock in the afternoon,” to prepare carriages and reserve five rooms at the hotel,” said Isarescu.

Historical context

During the WWI, due to the advance of the Central Powers’ troops toward Bucharest, the Royal Family, the Government, Parliament, and other central institutions of the Romanian state sought refuge in Iași.
In the Moldavian city, which became the capital of national resistance, the headquarters of the National Bank of Romania was also relocated starting from November 14, 1916. As winter approached in 1916, two-thirds of the national territory were occupied by the Central Powers’ armies. The Romanian army, withdrawn to new alignments, was to undergo reconstruction, and a significant part of the population had moved to the eastern part of the country, enduring not only the harsh winter conditions but also facing famine and diseases.
The Romanian government and representatives of the National Bank signed a convention with the representative of the Russian Empire in Iași, outlining the conditions for the first transport to Moscow. According to this agreement, Romanian assets were “under the guarantee of the Russian government regarding the security of transport, the security of the deposit, and the return to Romania.”

This initial transport took place in December 1916 and included 1,738 boxes containing the Treasury of the National Bank of Romania (1,735 with coins and three with ingots) and two boxes with the jewelry of Queen Maria. The gold from the National Bank of Romania was valued at 314.5 million lei, and Queen Maria’s jewelry at 7 million lei. The 1,740 boxes were stored at the Kremlin, in the Armory Hall, in the section reserved for the Moscow Branch of the State Bank of Russia. They were inventoried in January-February 1917, noting that “practically all the verified values, i.e., inventoried or weighed, proved to be quantitatively and in terms of value in full accordance with the statements of the National Bank of Romania.”

The large number and variety of coins (English pounds, Austrian crowns, German marks, napoleons, carolins, i.e., the Romanian pole worth 20 lei, etc.) can be explained by the fact that, according to the law, the banknotes were “payable upon presentation at the Bank’s offices, in the liberating national currency or in foreign coins that were legal tender, according to the monetary legislation of the state.”

In the summer of 1917, the Romanian authorities in Iași anticipated a large-scale military offensive by the Central Powers, and in this tense context, the second transport of Romania’s Treasury to Moscow took place. This time, the train bound for Moscow carried not only the assets of the National Bank of Romania but also those of other institutions (Romanian Academy, Deposits and Consignments House, and other banks, National Archives of Romania, National Museum of Antiquities, State Pinacoteca, ministries, monasteries).
In the three wagons containing assets of the National Bank of Romania, which were also stored in the Armory Hall at the Kremlin, according to the protocol signed this time by the Russian representative, the Romanian finance minister, and representatives of the National Bank of Romania, there were “securities, effects, values, deposits, part of its archives and books, its documents, etc., as well as the gold portion of its deposits in metals, its private property.”
The total value of Romanian assets transported to Moscow in July 1917 was 7.5 billion lei, of which the assets in the three wagons of the National Bank of Romania were valued at 1.5 billion lei, with 575,000 lei representing gold. Regarding gold, in total, in December 1916 and July 1917, the National Bank of Romania deposited 91.48 tons of fine gold in Moscow.

Romania has not fully recovered its gold treasury deposited in Moscow during World War I. The issue of returning this treasury has remained a subject of discussion and negotiation between Romania and the Russian Federation over the years. There are difficulties related to historical, legal, and diplomatic aspects that have hindered the complete resolution of this matter.

The recovery of the treasure consists of 91.5 tons of fine gold, valued at 4.9 billion euros at the current exchange rate of the National Bank of Romania, along with the jewels of Queen Maria and the Crown, reported in 2022. The current reserve of the Central Bank is only slightly larger than the gold in Moscow, specifically 103.6 tons, with an estimated value of 5.8 billion euros.

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