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Journalists say Moscow helped sell Venezuelan gold, but Russia’s Central Bank denies it

Meduza
A Boeing freight jet owned by the Russian airline Yerofei.
A Boeing freight jet owned by the Russian airline Yerofei.

On January 31, Novaya Gazeta reported that Russian agencies may have assisted in the liquidation of Venezuelan gold. The previous day, a Boeing 757 owned by the Russian company Yerofei flew from Moscow to Caracas through Dubai, increasing speculation among journalists and anti-Maduro politicians that the jet was to remove $840 million, or 20 tons of gold, from Venezuela’s national bank. That amount would reportedly represent about 20 percent of the country’s holdings. The Boeing jet made one additional trip between Moscow and Caracas between January 18 and 19.

Novaya Gazeta’s sources said vehicles owned by the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates met the Russian plane upon its landing in Dubai. The newspaper reported that “gold was removed from the plane, which was then loaded with containers filled with cash in U.S. dollars.” Novaya Gazeta also wrote that approximately 30 tons of Venezuelan gold worth approximately $1.2 billion in total were already held in Russian storage facilities.

Those holdings may be related to Nicolás Maduro’s January 30 announcement that he would allocate billions of dollars to development projects in the country despite ongoing political upheaval. Juan Guaidó, an opposition leader and Venezuelan parliamentarian, announced earlier this month that he would be assuming the duties of the country’s president. The announcement sparked divisions between governments that backed Guaidó, including that of the United States, and Russian government leaders who remain committed to Maduro’s presidency.

Data showing flights made by the Yerofei jet on the Flightradar24 website

Russia’s Central Bank denied Novaya Gazeta’s allegations. Its chairperson, Elvira Nabiullina, said reports regarding Russian holdings of Venezuelan gold were inaccurate. Sources involved in Russian financial dealings told The Bell that they doubted Russia has the ability to store gold that remains under Venezuelan ownership.

On January 29, the Venezuelan opposition deputy José Guerra said he suspected Russian officials were preparing to remove 20 tons of gold from the country. Another Russian jet, this time a Boeing 777, allegedly landed in Caracas to carry out the transfer. Bloomberg reported that although Guerra did not provide evidence for his suspicions, he previously worked as an economist in Venezuela’s Central Bank and has maintained ties with his former colleagues. Another Bloomberg source affirmed that 20 tons of gold, or 20 percent of Venezuela’s holdings, had been “set aside for shipping” in the Central Bank. Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he “did not receive that information” and asked journalists to “deal carefully with ‘fake news’ of various kinds.”

The U.S. government made Venezuelan assets in U.S. banks accessible to Guaido’s opposition on January 29. In the meantime, the Bank of England refused to transfer $1.2 billion dollars in Venezuelan gold that is currently held in the United Kingdom back to Venezuelan territory. Bloomberg and other English-language sources reported that the Bank of England’s refusal followed calls from the White House to cut the Maduro regime’s access to Venezuelan assets outside the country’s borders.

Translation from Russian by Hilah Kohen