Authorities in Uganda have opened a probe into imports of an estimated 7.4 tonnes of gold, worth about $300 million, which are thought to have secretly been flown from Venezuela, Reuters reported on Thursday.
Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga said that part of the gold vanished after they raided the African Gold Refinery (AGR), the biggest refinery in east Africa.
He explained that on 7 March, police raided AGR premises and found the 3.6-tonne batch, but the first shipment had disappeared.
“Investigators have already questioned and obtained statements from officials at AGR. We are very much interested in them indicating to us where the 3.8 tonnes of gold are. The one who is found in possession of this gold has to explain […] they [AGR officials] are a subject of investigation," Enanga told Reuters.
AGR, in turn, claimed that the gold came from South America, rejecting all allegations of smuggling.
“All the required documents have been provided to them [the police]. AGR transactions are legal and documentations are 1000% legitimate”, Reuters cited an unnamed AGR spokesperson as saying.
Bur Ugandan state media outlets speculated that the gold could have originated from Venezuela, which they argued has been selling the precious metal to shore up its crisis-hit economy.
Enanga, for his part, declined to confirm that the gold originated from Venezuela, suggesting that “it could be from Latin America or from DRC” and that “investigations will tell us all that”.
The developments come after Reuters reported citing an unnamed source in February that Venezuela plans to sell 15 tonnes of central bank gold to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in return for euros in cash.
The sources claimed that the goal is to sell 29 tonnes in total to Abu Dhabi by March in order to provide liquidity for imports of basic products.
In a separate development, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro suggested that "more or less 80 tonnes" of Venezuela's gold could be frozen in the Bank of England.
Venezuela remains embroiled in a political standoff, which escalated after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s interim president in late January, in a move immediately supported by the US. Maduro accused Guaido of being a “puppet”, while blasting Washington for orchestrating a coup in the Latin American country.