Back in March, a Uganda-based gold refinery was caught importing a massive 7.4 million tons of gold under questionable circumstances.
At the time, no one could prove definitively that it was Venezuelan gold from the Maduro regime, and half of it had already been lost to export.
Now, a Wall Street Journalinvestigation has definitively exposed the scheme, concluding that the suspect African gold Refinery–launched by a Belgian in Uganda–is behind the operation to secretly help Maduro get the country’s gold to the market.
The investigation, citing unnamed sources close to the operation and both Venezuelan and Ugandan officials, determined that the $300 million in gold that landed in Uganda in March was transported to Uganda via Russian charter jets.
The gold landed in Entebbe, Uganda, and then went to the African Gold Refinery (AGR) before it was exported onward, according to the WSJ. The gold landed in two separate shipments of 3.8 tons and 3.6 tons.
The first shipment of 3.8 tons was exported to Turkey, based on the results of the investigation. However, the founder of AGR, Belgian businessman Alain Goetz–a big name in the African gold trade–claims that the gold was sent to Goetz Gold in Dubai, and was not exported to Turkey.
This isn’t AGR’s first flirtation with the underground economy: It’s been on the Ugandan authorities’ radar for years, including for allegedly smuggling ‘conflict gold’ from Congo and other African venues. And that gold ends up in the supply chains of major Western companies. AGR denies all of these allegations, and also says that as of March 26th, its management has agreed to steer clear of Venezuelan gold.
In the meantime, Venezuelans are suffering beyond imagination, with Maduro blaming an economic war waged he says is being waged by the U.S. and its allies, while the opposition blames Maduro’s misguided economic policies, corruption and gross mismanagement.
The Central Bank’s gold is clearly being mismanaged.
Not only do we have the regime siphoning off gold through Uganda, but Citibank and Deutsche Bank have assumed control of some $1.4 billion in Venezuelan gold. They’re holding it as a guarantee for loans, thanks to U.S. sanctions on the country’s central bank, according to Reuters.
Venezuela defaulted on a $750-million gold swap agreement with Deutsche Bank. The agreement was struck in 2016 and Venezuela put up 20 tons of gold as collateral. But interest payments were missed.
Venezuela’s opposition may not survive the fleecing of the country unscathed, either.
A separate report from the WSJ on Wednesday noted that opposition leaders are under pressure over accusations that private funds it collected from foreign governments have been embezzled.
Reports claim that millions of dollars raised for “freedom and democracy” in Venezuela were pocketed by the aides of opposition leader Juan Guaido in Colombia. Colombian spies were allegedly behind the leaking of this information. The specific funds in questions largely came from the U.S. in the form of a benefit concert organized by billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson and the money was earmarked for Venezuelan soldiers who defected to Colombia.
Which brings us back to the Uganda-Venezuela gold debacle, WSJ notes an ironic twist in the Venezuelan gold’s tale: as a person familiar with the central bank’s reserves told them: The bars almost certainly came from America in the 1940s, the person says, in payment to Venezuela for oil supplied during World War II.