A secretive gold operation involving Uganda may be partially responsible for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro retaining power despite the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis.
In early March, 7.4 tons of gold, valued at $300 million, were sent in two flights of a Russian aircraft from Caracas to Entebbe, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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Venezuela is under U.S. sanctions targeting a gold sector that is a key economic pillar of the government of President Nicolas Maduro, AP reports.
The operation through Uganda allows the dictator to avoid sanctions, with officials in the South American and the East African country confirming that Maduro’s government is behind the gold exports.
Lucrative trading in the precious metal keeps the military loyal to Maduro, Bloomberg reports.
Maduro has managed to sustain control of his regime by selling an estimated 73.3 tons of gold valued at $3 billion in a secret operation, according to the JerusalemPost.
The gold was exported to companies in the Middle East and Turkey between 2017 and February 2019.
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Uganda appears to be part of Maduro’s black market gold trade, with a legitimate company operating in the country taking control of the metal and selling it on to companies in the Middle East.
Once the gold arrived at the international airport in Entebbe, Ugandan national-police spokesman Fred Enanga told WSJ that it passed through African Gold Refinery on its way out of the country without going through normal customs procedures.
The shipment on Mar. 2 contained 3.8 tons of gold that was destined for Turkey. Two days later another 3.6 tons of gold arrived in Entebbe, TheTribunePapers reported.
Ugandan police raided African Gold Refinery on Mar. 7, but by that time the first shipment was already sent to the Middle East and only the 3.6 tons remained.
The paperwork that was present with the gold identified it as Venezuelan central-bank property, with some stamped labels partially scratched off, likely in an attempt to disguise its point of origin, according to Yalibnan.
Flight records also show that the Boeing 777 owned by Russian charter company Nordwind Airlines originated in Caracas, the Wall Street Journal reported.
African Gold Refinery, which was founded in 2014 by Belgian businessman Alain Goetz, has been accused of smuggling gold from the Democratic Republic Congo in the past, according to TheEastAfrican.