LARRY ROMANOFF • AUGUST 11, 2020
In its promotions in China, Citibank boasts of having been first established in China in 1902, testifying to its devotion to China by displaying a photo of some currency issued in China by the National City Bank of New York. But then from 1902 until Citi's trepidatious re-entry into the backwater of Shenzhen in China in the late 1980s, there is nothing. Specifically, there is no information on Citi's activities during this period, other than the names of a dozen cities with branch locations and a muffled statement that Citibank left China "because of the war". During that period we have only silence. Not only silence, but a strange lack of the written word. In fact, the Internet, at least those parts that can be controlled, have been totally sanitised. According to the entire world's media and historical archives, Citibank did not exist in China from 1902 to 1949, in other words from the day it arrived to the day it left. We will soon learn why.
In the early 1900s in most countries, the governments' central banks did not issue currency, leaving this task to the various chartered banks each of whom was permitted to issue unlimited amounts of currency provided it had sufficient backing in gold or silver to correspond to the volume of paper money it printed. And in many countries, paper currencies from many banks circulated simultaneously and were freely interchangeable, accepted as cash based on the assurance of precious metal backing. This condition was also true in China, with both Chinese and foreign banks issuing their versions of paper money.
In Citibank's case or, more correctly, the National City Bank of New York, permission was granted to open branches in Shanghai and to issue paper money based on the requirement of precious metal backing, a stipulation with which Citi complied. (1) But then with controls lacking due to Japan's presence and the disruptive interference in China by the Western powers, Citi became ambitious and expanded its branch network to fourteen different cities - without permission - and began issuing unlimited amounts of currency in all of them, but without the gold or silver underpinnings. Citi was on the edge of bankruptcy at the time and had no further assets to commit, so the bank simply began printing and issuing totally unbacked Chinese currency with the assumption that it would be accepted by the population. (2) This was true "suitcase banking", since these were simply illegal shell banks with no assets and no evidence of registered capital. I could find no definitive record of the total amount of fake currency Citi issued, but it would certainly have been in the tens of billions of dollars, contributing heavily to China's inflation and producing massive criminal profits for the bank.
But there was much more, with the owners of Citibank crafting and perpetrating what was perhaps the largest fraudulent theft in China's entire 5,000-year history. Citi wasn't satisfied with the profits from selling paper money and so devised a scheme to plunder the gold from Chinese households, gold which was held by most citizens as a traditional form of savings. The bank began a widely-promoted campaign to encourage all Chinese to bring their gold bars to Citibank for storage in the bank's vaults, on the premise of safety, all citizens being given paper gold certificates as evidence of their deposits, certificates which could be redeemed at any time for the actual gold. (3) The Chinese government made strenuous efforts to discourage its citizens from participating in this program since it had already been abundantly clear that the foreigners could not be trusted.
Unfortunately, many Chinese chose to disregard these warnings and trustingly handed over their gold bars to the National City Bank of New York for safekeeping. But then one day when the vaults were full to overflowing and the handwriting on the wall, our bankers had a change of heart. They transferred all that gold from their vaults to US military vessels and sent it all home to New York. Then Citibank just closed its doors, said "Good-bye, China", and returned home. From reports I've seen, that gold eventually ended up with the US FED. You may recall that in the 1970s the FED suddenly and without provocation decided to re-melt all its gold holdings and recast them into bars of different shapes. FED officials were never able to explain the reason for such an expensive and far-reaching undertaking, but one obvious result would be to destroy forever the original markings on all those bars, preventing any future claim of ownership.
Interestingly, the occupying Japanese military were able to confirm this sequence of events, which was reported in the New York Times, having suspected the process and initiating the habit of inspecting US warships prior to departure from Shanghai, and in more than one case ordering the Americans to offload the gold, some of it apparently 'belonging' to the Morgan and Chase banks. But it seems most of it managed to escape, and once again the total was certainly in the tens of billions of dollars - and this was in the 1940s. Given the proven cases and moderate estimates of residuals, it is abundantly clear that Citibank owes Chinese citizens far more than the entire capital value of the bank today.
According to reports of the time of Citi's evacuation, many people brought their gold certificates to the bank's Shanghai branch for redemption but were stalled by the staff and found signs stating that all Citibank's business had been settled and citizens should refer to the Bank of China. It was later apparent that Citi had long been preparing for its retreat from China, having left virtually no evidence of anything in its offices, having removed or destroyed all evidence of all events of its 40+ year criminal history in China. It also seems apparent from the historical record that Citibank was in desperate straits during this period, having lost its assets in Cuba and South America, in Russia after the revolution, in the US during the depression, and was on the verge of insolvency. Various books have referred to this period, one published by Harvard University (4) (5) stating that Citibank's miraculous development was due entirely to its "rapid acquisition of assets" in China, some authors documenting Citi's China assets at about 30 billion yuan in Northern China and another more than 10 billion in the South, these 'acquired assets' having been transferred to the US.
Naturally, even still today, there are many Chinese with all their intact historical documentation who want to recover their gold from Citibank. Many groups of Chinese have hired lawyers in both China and the US in attempts to present their documented claims to various courts and, just as naturally, Citibank does all within its power to prevent such claims being heard in any court anywhere. In China, Citi's defense is that it operated as a different legal entity - the National City Bank of New York - and therefore cannot be sued in China since that entity no longer exists. However, prosecution would be admissible in the US since Citi is deemed the legal descendant of that prior bank. One group in particular presented all the supporting evidence to document a claim against Citibank for $250 million. Eventually a New York court agreed to admit and hear the case of these Chinese plaintiffs, with the odd stipulation that each plaintiff would have to appear in person in the US courts to give their testimony. (6) (7) (8) (9)
No problem so far. (10) But when these Chinese plaintiffs attended the American consulates in China to obtain their travel visas, the US State Department refused to accept any of the applications and denied all travel visas to the US. The Americans refused to offer any explanation, but then we don't really need one, do we? No travel visa, no personal appearance in a US courtroom, no trial, no refund of billions in gold by Citibank. It was not helpful or appreciated when US State Department officials mocked these Chinese plaintiffs by telling them to "pursue your claims in China", knowing full well that could not be done. Nothing much to do, but let's not hear any more stories about the independence of the US judiciary, or ideological tales about rule of law. Of course, even American lawyers said the actions of the US Consulate in Shenyang (in refusing the visas) were illegal, but in China they have diplomatic immunity and cannot be charged or forced to appear in a court.
There were other messy complications. One plaintiff, a Shao Lianhua, experienced serious difficulty in finding an American lawyer to take his case, claiming US lawyers treated his party with contempt, stating openly they would not assist any Chinese in extracting money from the US. At one point, when Shao was staying in a Los Angeles hotel, two heavily-armed police came into his room and demanded a search of his possessions - illegal under US law without a search warrant or express permission from the victim, neither of which they had. Nevertheless, the police made clear they were searching for Shao's gold certificates which he was to present to a court the following day. Shao had fortunately taken the precaution of hiding the certificates sufficiently well the police were unable to find them. However, equally unable to prevent their searching, Shao called his lawyer and, after some protracted discussions, the police left. But they were not police. From their cards and photos the lawyers identified them as US Treasury Secret Agents. (11) We can legitimately ask why the US Treasury, acting on orders from the White House, would send armed agents to perform an illegal search for the sole purpose of confiscating the essential evidence of Citibank's fraud.
Many Chinese today are still pursuing Citibank for their gold, and are increasingly demanding that China's Central Government finally assist them in their venture, perhaps by amending the laws to match those in the US and thus permit Citibank to be sued in China. (12) (13)
Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org