Venezuela opposition accuses government of illegal gold sales

Javier TOVAR
·2-min read

Venezuela's opposition on Wednesday accused the government of President Nicolas Maduro of illegally selling the country's international gold reserves to access liquidity and elude international sanctions.

Julio Borges, who represents opposition leader Juan Guaido, traveled to Washington to share the results of an investigation into the sale of 300 tons of gold since 2014 that allegedly involves Russia, Mali and the United Arab Emirates.

Borges said the UAE was the "nerve center of this great theft of Venezuela's riches."

He added that Maduro had been able to access "a bit more than one billion euros" in 2020 through the sales.

"Huge amounts of cash have left UAE for Venezuela to be exchanged for Venezuelan gold," said Borges, who presented his findings to the US Treasury and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

"This money is arriving in Venezuela without any control" leaving Maduro with access to it.

Venezuela's government did not reply to an AFP request for a comment.

Venezuela had 85.7 tons of gold in the Central Bank, according to the last count in December 2020.

But the government has long struggled with a lack of cash, largely due to the crash in oil production exacerbated by US sanctions.

Gold reserves stood at 275 tons in 2014, according to official figures.

The government is also trying to recover 30 tons of gold held in the Bank of England to which it has been denied access as Britain recognizes Guaido as Venezuela's leader, alongside around 50 countries.

Guaido proclaimed himself acting president in January 2019 in his role then as parliament speaker over claims Maduro was fraudulently re-elected in a vote the previous year.

Borges said he has "documents, photos or videos" to prove his claims.

He said the gold ingots were flown on a Russian plane to a refinery in Mali "to remove the traces that it's Venezuelan gold."

Most of the gold ends up in the UAE, although some was destined for Libya and Switzerland, said Borges, who claimed armed forces officials had provided the information.

Borges asked the US to investigate the matter further and apply sanctions to those allegedly involved, including Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami and Colombian businessman Alex Saab, currently held in Cape Verde and wanted by Washington for corruption linked to Maduro.

He said two French citizens working for the Emirati financial company Noor Capital were also involved in exchanging the gold for cash.