In the hours before he led more than 900 followers in a mass suicide-murder rite, the Rev. Jim Jones ordered the transfer of more than $7 million in Peoples Temple funds to the Soviet government for the benefit of "oppressed people" around the world.
Jones' instruction, contained in a letter to the Soviet consul in Georgetown who had visited Jonestown on at least one occasion, listed banks and bank account numbers in Pnanama and Venezuela where the money was deposited, according to testimony by Guyanese police officials.
Most of the money was held in Swidd Bank Corp. and Union Bank of Switzerland branches in Panama City, according to a letter that was sent out of Jonestown - along with $48,000 in U.S. currency - with three of Jones' most loyal followers immediately before the Nov. 18 massacre began.
The letter, which has been in the hands of Guyanese police officials since the three men were taken into custody on Nov. 19, was made public today during an official inquest in Matthew's Ridge, near Jonestown, to determine the causes of death of the 914 who died at Jonestown of gunshot wounds or cyanide poisoning.
It is unlikely that the Soviet officials knew of the letter's contents before today and even less likely that they have emptied the bank accounts most of which are time-deposit accounts that could not be touched until next year.
Nonetheless, Jones' determination to give the millions to the Soviet Union-coupled with visits to Jonestown by Soviet Embassy officials and negotiations under way between Jones and Soviet representatives here to move the Peoples Temple to the Soviet Union-adds a curious new wrinkle to the Jonestown tragedy.
"We want to leave . . . all our assets to the Communist Party and the Soviet Union," the letter, signed by Annie McGowan, one of Jones' aides, begins. "Enclosed in this letter are letters which instruct the banks to send cashiers checks to you.
"I am doing this on behalf of the Peoples Temple [because] we want our money to be of benefit to oppressed peoples or in any way your decision-making body sees fit," McGowan wrote to the Soviet consul.
She went on to list two accounts belonging to the Peoples Temple at
The Swiss Bank Corp. branch in Panama. These two accounts contain or contained a total of $2,043,000, according to the letter. In addition, the temple had seven accounts at the Union Bank of Switzerland branch in Panama with a total of $5,241,536 in them, according to McGowan's letter.
During his last interviews, Jones told reporters that he was a Marxist and said he could not understand the feud between the Soviet Union and China. Jones also thought of himself as a friend of Cuba, and, according to survivors of the Jonestown murder-suicide, he once ordered his largest boat loaded in preparation for moving his followers to the Caribbean island.
Jonestown survivors have also said that on at least two occasions, officials of the Soviet Embassy here visited Jones' remote agricultural commune.One time, a Tass correspondent and his wife spent several days at the commune, and Jones' followers were later told that an article favorable to Jonestown had been published in Soviet newspapers.
(Shortly after the Jonestown tragedy, Tass labeled the mass death a symptom of the "American way of life," and linked Jones to prominent American politicians who were reported to have praised Jones' work in the past.)
A second visit, last August or September, was made by the Soviet consul here and by the embassy doctor, who gave Jones a complete physical examination, according to the survivors. They recalled that the consul askded at one point if the food he was being served was the same as that eaten by members of the Peoples Temple living at Jonestown.
When Jones admited that the consul was being served special meals, the envoy said he would no longer accept them and wanted to eat only what commune members were being served. At the end of his visit, the survivors recalled, the embassy officials praised Jonestown and called particular attention to the fact that it was a moneyless society.
"Of course, Jim Jones confiscated all our money," said Dale Parks, one of the 16 Jonestown residents who left with Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif.) before the mass suicide ritual began, as he recalled the Soviet official's comment.
Jones even had planned to move the Peoples Temple from Guyana to the Soviet Union. He had selected a location on the east coast of the Black Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains in the Soviet state of Georgia, as his first choice.
Serious negotiations-at least from Jones' perspective-were under way here with Soviet Embassy officials not long before Ryan's fateful visit least month.
According to part of a Peoples Temple memordandum published by a Guynaese newspaper, an embassy official by the name of Timofeyev was negotiating for the Soviets. He apparently told the Peoples Temple representative that there would be no problem if a delegation from Jonestown wanted to visit the Soviet Union although Timofeyev, according to the memorandum, did inquire about the why Temple members had defected and why there had been negative press coverage of the cult in the United States.
According to several survivors, Jones thought that Guyana was proving to be less than a secure country for the Peoples Temple because of increasing pressure from a group called Concerned Relatives in the United States and various U.S. lawsuits against Jones that had found their way into Guyanese courts.
He saw the Soviet Union as a safe haven from U.S. pressure, according to the survivors, where the Peoples Temple could develop the sociialist society Jones proffessed to believe in.A14