President Maduro Linked to Ugandan Gold Probe
Ugandan authorities are investigating unexplained imports of 7.4 tonnes of gold worth US$300 million that is suspected of originating with President Maduro’s regime in Venezuela.
The investigation is centred on African Gold Refinery (AGR), the country’s largest refinery, Reuters reported on Wednesday. AGR confirmed that the gold arrived from South America but rejected claims of smuggling.
“All our transactions are legal and well documented,” the company said in a statement to OCCRP, dismissing the allegations as “fake news.”
Fred Enanga, a spokesman for Uganda’s police, told Reuters that AGR received two shipments of 3.8 and 3.6 tonnes at the beginning of March however neither passed through official customs entry points.
Police raided AGR premises on March 7 but found the lighter batch had disappeared.
Flights this month from Caracas to Entebbe have raised suspicions that Nicolas Maduro’s government is smuggling gold out of the country and selling it to traders in Africa and the Middle East in an attempt to prop up its sanctions-hit economy.
An airline source told The Times that a European charter company was contracted to fly four tonnes of gold from Caracas to Entebbe early this year.
The Venezuelan opposition previously claimed a jet owned by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza transported gold to Greece. Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, is one of the few European leaders still supporting Maduro.
Venezuela’s ambassador to Greece, Freddy Fernández, denied the reports.
“It is foolish to believe that the Venezuelan foreign minister himself was taking the gold out of the country. The story is part of a concerted attack against our country,” he told the Greek news outlet Efimerida ton Syntakton.
Investigators are looking to establish where the gold came from, who owns it and how it was shipped into the country, he said.
Uganda has become a regional smuggling hub for gold with corruption and widespread mismanagement proving profitable for officials and international investors, a report from Global Witness claims.
AGR was accused of facilitating gold smuggling from conflict regions in the Democratic Republic of Congo in an investigation by The Sentry, an African financial investigations organization co-founded by actor George Clooney.
AGR Chief Executive Officer, Alain Goetz denied the accusations, calling it “yet another pathetic attempt to destroy the much-needed reforms and changes needed in the African gold industry.”