At least eight tons of gold were reportedly removed from the Venezuelan central bank’s vaults by government officials last week, as President Nicolas Maduro seeks to raise capital amid tightening sanctions.
The gold was removed in government vehicles between Wednesday and Friday last week, when there were no regular security guards present at the bank, according to a report by Reuters.
The news agency said the information came from economist and National Assembly representative Angel Alvarado as well as “three government sources”.
“They plan to sell it abroad illegally,” Mr Alvarado said in an interview.
Mr Alvarado and the government sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, did not say where the central bank was sending the gold. But they said the removal happened while Calixto Ortega, the central bank head, was abroad on a trip.
Mr Maduro is struggling to raise funds, as production of Venezuela’s biggest export - oil - has collapsed in recent years, plunging the country into a deep economic crisis.
Furthermore the US has implemented tough sanctions on the country’s oil industry to put pressure on Mr Maduro to stand down.
The US is backing opposition leader Juan Guaido who has declared himself “interim president” amid the crisis.
Mr Guaido arrived in Brazil on Wednesday night to meet with new right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro as part of a tour of several countries aimed at ratcheting up international pressure on Mr Maduro.
According to the Venezuelan central bank’s data, there are 140 tons of gold remaining - the lowest level in 75 years.
Some 20 tons of gold were removed from the vaults in 2018.
And on 1 February, Abu Dhabi investment firm Noor Capital announced it had purchased three tons of gold from the Venezuelan central bank days earlier. But the firm said it would not buy any more until the situation in Venezuela stabilised.
Noor Capital said its purchase was in accordance with “international standards and laws in place” as of that date.
Mr Maduro’s government has also been trying to repatriate some 31 tons of gold in the Bank of England’s vaults due to fears it could be caught up in further international sanctions on the country.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Wednesday, during a United Nations meeting in Geneva, the Bank of England had blocked the government’s assets.
Turkey, which supports Mr Maduro’s government, came under international pressure earlier this month to stop buying Venezuelan gold.
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