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The Case Of Venezuela's Vanishing Gold

Gold

A spokesman for the Kremlin has denied rumors that the private Boeing 777 registered to Russia's Nordwind airline which landed in Caracas this week was there to spirit away a chunk of Venezuela's gold reserves - or escort the country's embattled leader, Nicolas Maduro, into exile, according to the Telegraph.

"Russia is prepared to help resolve the political situation [in Venezuela] in any way possible, without interfering into the country’s internal affairs," Mr Peskov was quoted as saying by the RBC news outlet.

On Monday, a Russian newspaper reported that the empty plane had departed from Moscow to Caracas with enough space for some 400 passengers. According to photos taken by Reuters, it was parked by a private corner of the Caracas airport. It marked the first time the plane had flown on that route. Reports said the plane carried two crew teams and that there was "no obvious reason for it to fly there."

Peskov cautioned journalists to be "careful with different hoaxes" when asked for a response to the plane rumors.

In what sounded like a slight against the US, Peskov said Russia was committed to helping resolve the "political situation" in Venezuela without interfering in the country's business. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow will do "anything" to support Maduro.

"Russia is prepared to help resolve the political situation [in Venezuela] in any way possible, without interfering into the country’s internal affairs," Mr Peskov was quoted as saying by the RBC news outlet.

Though it's worth noting that reports claim Russia is nervous about protecting the money it has invested in Venezuela, which has been used to help prop up the Maduro regime.

It's probably just a coincidence that one day after a Russian official warned that Venezuela would struggle to meet its financial obligations to Moscow under a $3.15 billion debt-rescheduling deal, Bloomberg is reporting that a mysterious Russian Boeing 777 had landed in Caracas on Tuesday and ferried away 20 tonnes of gold - equivalent to roughly 20% of the country's holdings of the shiny metal - to an unknown location with little explanation. The story cited a "bombshell tweet" sent by Venezuelan lawmaker Jose Guerra, a "former central bank economist who remains in touch with old colleagues there", and the "welter of social media speculation" that followed (though Guerra provided no evidence).

To be sure, many outlandish claims have been made in the week since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the legitimate democratically-elected leader of what was once Latin America's wealthiest nation - creating the biggest threat to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's rule since the socialist dictator took office in 2013.

(Click to enlarge)

Moving the 20 tonnes of gold bars, worth some $840 million, occurred shortly after the UK denied the Maduro regime's request to retrieve some $1.2 billion in gold being kept in the vaults of the Bank of England.

And with the country owing billions of dollars to Russia and China (not to mention Venezuela's long-suffering bondholders), the story's implication is clear: was this collateral paid to Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Related: Cash Is Now A $3-Trillion Safe Haven Bet

On Monday, a plane belonging to Nordwind Airlines, a popular Russian charter operator based in Moscow, landed at the international airport near Caracas, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24. A Nordwind spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the purpose of the flight.

While Finance Minister Simon Zerpa declined to comment on the nation’s gold, he said there was no Russian plane at Simon Bolivar International Airport: "I’m going to start bringing Russian and Turkish airplanes every week so everybody gets scared," he said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also had no information about the charter jet, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a message Wednesday. There are no plans to evacuate Russians from Venezuela, she said.

According to BBG, Venezuela has been trying for years to increase its gold reserves via mining. The state gold processor Minerven melts ore into gold bars which are transported by the military (which controls the mining) to the central bank.

The U.S. announced sanctions against the Maduro regime earlier this week, including restrictions on buying the country's oil, to try and starve his regime of money, while opening access to Venezuelan assets frozen in the U.S. to Guaido to try and help him cement his control of the country.

By Wednesday morning, the regime was feeling pressure to capitulate and begin negotiations, with Maduro reportedly saying he'd be "open to talks" with the opposition, though, as the New York Times noted, " it is "not clear if the comments were a genuine offer for negotiations with the opposition or a bid to buy time for his embattled government."

“I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk about what benefits Venezuela,” Mr. Maduro said.

Maduro listed several potential mediators for the talks, including Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, Russia, the Vatican and other European governments that had encouraged a dialogue. The purported capitulation comes after Maduro had threatened to use the country's Supreme Court to impose a travel ban on Guaido in what appeared to be an attempt to intimidate him.

President Trump welcomed Maduro's announcement while reiterating a warning to US citizens not to travel to Venezuela.

Still, he has rejected international calls for new elections, which could soon lead to several Western European nations joining the ranks of countries recognizing Guaido as the country's legitimate ruler.

By Zerohedge

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