By Corina Pons, Mayela Armas
Venezuela will sell 15 tonnes of gold from central bank vaults to the United Arab Emirates in coming days in return for euros in cash, a senior official with knowledge of the plan said, in an effort by the troubled OPEC member to stay solvent.
The sale this year of gold reserves that back the bolivar currency began with a shipment on Jan. 26 of 3 tonnes, and follows the export last year of $900 million of mostly unrefined gold to Turkey.
In total, the plan is to sell 29 tonnes of gold held in Caracas by February, the source said, requesting anonymity in order to speak freely.
The 3-tonne shipment that left Maiquetia airport on Jan. 26 was transported on small Venezuelan cargo airline Solar Cargo to the United Arab Emirates. The same airline will be used to ship 15 tonnes as soon as Friday, and 11 tonnes in February, the source said.
In recent days, the arrival of two Russian-operated planes at Maiquetia fired up rumors in Venezuela that they would leave with gold on board. That was incorrect, the source said, and has been denied by Moscow.
In January 2018, venezuela held 150 tonnes of gold between the central bank’s vaults and the Bank of England. By November holdings had fallen to a 75 year low of 132 tonnes, central bank data showed.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro resorted to selling off gold after falling oil production, the country’s wider economic collapse and mounting U.S. sanctions hit public income and made it hard for the country to access credit.
The United States, which is backing an attempt by the opposition to force Maduro to step down and call new elections, warned bankers and traders on Wednesday not to deal in Venezuelan gold.
My advice to bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses: don’t deal in gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities being stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia. We stand ready to continue to take action.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 30, 2019
Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio sent a tweet to the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington on Thursday warning that anybody transporting Venezuelan gold would be subject to U.S. sanctions.
.@UAEEmbassyUS, we have reports that a French national working for @noor_capital is in Caracas today to arrange for the theft of more Gold from #Venezuela. I hope you have advised them that they & any air charter service that does this will be subject to Treasury sanctions.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 31, 2019
Neither the embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Colombia, which covers Venezuela, or the central bank responded immediately to requests for comment.