At least eight tonnes of gold have allegedly been taken from Venezuela's central bank at the behest of President Nicolas Maduro. Critics insist that he had done this in a bid to smuggle it out from the country.
Lawmaker Angel Daniel Alvarado Rangel from the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the opposition coalition in Venezuela's parliament, told Reuters that the gold had been taken away in government vehicles between Wednesday and Friday last week.
Alvarado and three other government sources were quoted as claiming that at the time of the alleged extraction, the bank's president Calixto Ortego was traveling abroad and there were no regular security guards in the building.
Alvarado contended that the gold would be sold abroad illegally, but did not clarify where it would be transported or who would buy it.
The deep constitutional crisis in Venezuela reached its pinnacle last month when opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president, calling for Maduro's resignation and fresh elections.
The United States, along with a spate of other Western countries that have long opposed the leftist leadership of Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, immediately recognised Guaido as the nation's leader — unlike Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey, and some other countries who support Maduro.
Washington has slapped sanctions against high-ranking Maduro allies and the country's state-run oil giant PDVSA, seizing $7 billion in its assets. The move would cost Maduro's government an additional $11 billion in lost export proceeds, US National Security Adviser John Bolton.
US Secretary of State Mike Pence called for members of the Lima Group, a bloc of nations aiming to tackle the presumed erosion of democracy under Maduro, to block PDVSA's assets and to transfer ownership of Venezuelan assets in their countries to Guaido.
Late last month, reports emerged that the Bank of England — the UK's central bank — had rejected Maduro officials' request to withdraw over $1 million worth of gold after US officials lobbied their counterparts in the UK to help cut Maduro's government off its foreign assets.
Maduro believes that the Bank of England has blocked access to "more or less 80 tonnes" of Venezuela's gold. In an interview with the BBC on 12 February, he expressed hope that his country "is not robbed of the gold that legally belongs to the central bank of Venezuela".