Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the leaders of Venezuela’s socialist regime of stealing nine tons of gold from the country’s reserve and shipping the bars to longtime ally Iran.
Pompeo said in a tweet on May 2 that “thugs” from the regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro had “looted nine tons of gold bars and sent it to the Iranian regime,” adding that by doing so, Venezuela’s leaders were “partnering with the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.”
Maduro’s thugs looted nine tons of gold bars and sent it to the Iranian regime. The world’s leading thieves are partnering with the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. The greatest victims are the Venezuelan and Iranian people. pic.twitter.com/EP7iP6FVJx
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 2, 2020
The gold, worth some $500 million, was payment to Iran for supporting Venezuela’s ailing gasoline refineries, according to a Bloomberg report.
Iranian jets reportedly flew in parts, technicians, and gasoline additives to fix a major refinery in Venezuela, and left with the gold bars.
Elliott Abrams, the envoy who leads U.S. efforts to topple Venezuela’s leftist leader, said that Iran has been sending “more and more planes” to the South American nation, according to AFP.
“Our guess is that they are being paid in gold,” he said at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, AFP reported.
“Those planes that are coming in from Iran that are bringing things for the oil industry are returning with the payments for those things: gold.”
The United States, which is backing an attempt by opposition leader Juan Guaido to force Maduro to step down and to call new elections, has warned bankers and traders not to deal in Venezuelan gold.
The raid on its gold reserves leaves Venezuela with hard-currency assets of just $6.3 billion, a 30-year low, according to Bloomberg.
Gold has been a critical part of Venezuela’s foreign reserves for years, ever since Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez converted much of the country’s hard assets, in particular U.S. dollars, into the yellow metal.
In 2011, Chavez brought into Venezuela some $11 billion worth of gold bars from storage in other countries. As the country plunged deeper into an economic crisis, driven by socialist policies and falling prices of oil, a key export and source of revenue, Venezuela sought to sell some of its gold to fund imports and avoid defaulting on foreign debt.
Between late 2019 and early 2020, Maduro ordered the removal of some six tons of gold from the central bank vaults to raise more hard currency for his cash-strapped regime.
Maduro continues to cling to power despite U.S. sanctions and efforts to depose him.