MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine officials scoffed today at tape-recorded claims by ousted ruler Ferdinand Marcos that he has a $14 billion gold treasure he would use to finance an attempt to regain power.
'If he was that rich, then certainly he has got the kind of worth far beyond the imagination,' said President Corazon Aquino's spokesman Teodoro Benigno.
Benigno said Marcos's statement on his riches 'started like a cyclone and ended like a zephyr.'
Armed Forces spokesman Col. Honesto Isleta said Marcos's boasts were a 'propaganda ploy to boost the sagging morale of his followers waiting for his return.'
He said the military was not taking seriously statements that Marcos plans to assemble an invasion force of 10,000 men armed with $25 million worth of high-tech weapons, Stinger missiles and tanks to seize power in Manila and take Aquino hostage.
Marcos' plans were revealed in tapes of a conversation at his exile home in Honolulu in May with two American representatives of a Saudi arms merchant, Prince Mohamed Al-Fassi.
Marcos said he was taking a loan from the Saudi prince and would repay it from his secret horde. He told the men he had 1,000 tons of gold, valued at $14 billion, hidden in the Philippines and another $500 million to $1 billion in Swiss banks.
The Americans, fearing prosecution under tough U.S. neutrality laws, turned over their tapes to Filipino authorities, who gave copies to U.S. officials in Washington.
The recordings were played to reporters in Manila and to a congressional subcommittee in Washington on Thursday.
Marcos, in an earlier interview with the Hong Kong-based news magazine Asiaweek, said he had discovered 'part, if not all' of the legendary treasure of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.
Yamashita, a Japanese Imperial Army commander known as the 'Tiger of Malaya,' was believed to have amassed a fortune in gold during his lightning conquest of the Malay peninsula in World War II.
Col. Isleta said he does not know if such a treasure exists, 'but I know some people swear by it.'
In 1978, American columnist Jack Anderson reported the U.S. State Department had evidence to show Marcos had maps to the Japanese treasure scattered in 172 locations.
He said American war prisoners who helped bury the treasure were executed.
In February, retired U.S. Maj. Gen. John Singlaub said he was on the trail of the Yamashita treasure, but the effort was shot down when nationalists said it was a cover for his anti-communist activities.
Minoru Fukumitsu, a war crimes investigator who served on the staff of the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, said he made an exhaustive investigation into the Yamashita treasure but found no evidence it existed.
He said Yamashita could not have brought his supposed loot from Malaya because he was sent from there to Manchuria and came to the Philippines only in the fall of 1944.
Fukumitsu also has a photograph of the U.S. battleship Detroit shipping out of the country $5.5 million in gold bars and currency from the Philippine Treasury on Feb. 4, 1942, before the Japanese invasion force arrived.