Since last November, when President Trump signed an Executive Order that authorized sanctions directed at Venezuela’s gold sector, officials in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration have tried multiple routes to move large quantities of Venezuelan gold reserves out of the country, to relieve the considerable financial pressures on the regime. In late January, Venezuelan authorities shipped three tons of gold to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reportedly as the first step in a plan to fly up to 29 tons of gold reserves to the UAE and to sell them for cash in euros. Even after plans for that larger shipment were canceled, Maduro’s team has continued to search for international gold buyers willing to risk running afoul of U.S. sanctions.
The latest chapter in this saga began on February 27, when, according to Reuters, a Venezuelan opposition leader and government sources stated that at least eight tons of gold had been removed from the Venezuelan Central Bank’s vaults. At the time, those sources did not indicate that they knew where that quantity of gold was headed.
That mystery now appears to have been solved. Today The Times reported that in early March, two flights from Venezuela had delivered a total of 7.4 tons of gold into Uganda. Entebbe-based African Gold Refinery (AGR) – the largest gold refinery in East Africa – received one shipment of 3.8 tons on March 2, and a second shipment of 3.6 tons on March 4, “neither of which are said to have passed through customs.” When Ugandan police raided AGR on March 7, they reportedly found the March 2 shipment missing, but the March 4 shipment is now in the custody of the Ugandan central bank.
This report indicates the extreme lengths – in logistical and geographic terms — to which the Maduro regime is apparently willing to go to ensure its own survival, even at the cost of inflicting long-term damage to the nation’s economy. The larger mystery is now whether the opposition can win control of the country before Maduro can exhaust the remaining 140 tons of gold reserves in his central bank or succeed in repatriating the 31 tons of Venezuelan gold that the Bank of England has in its vaults.