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Russian Plane, 20 Tons of Gold Add to Venezuelan Chaos

Jetliner waits on tarmac outside the capital as rumors swirl about its cargo
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 30, 2019 3:47 PM CST
Opposition lawmaker Gilbert Caro shouts "Free elections" in a walkout against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

(Newser) – An empty Russian airliner is sitting on a tarmac outside Caracas—but the reason why isn't clear yet. At the moment, the mystery only deepens the confusion in Venezuela, where the presidency is in dispute—as is control of the country's gold. Opposition lawmaker Jose Guerra tweeted Tuesday that the Boeing 777 belonging to Russia's Nordwind Airlines, which landed at Maiquetia airport Monday night sans passengers, was going to whisk away 20 tons of gold from the nation’s central bank, Bloomberg reports; Venezuela owes Russia, among other creditors, billions. The Telegraph reports a Kremlin rep said he doesn't know anything about the gold. He did say Russian stands ready to help resolve Venezuela’s political chaos in any way short of "interfering into the country's internal affairs."

Guerra is a former central bank economist who could have sources at the bank, and Bloomberg also spoke to a source who said 20 tons of gold, worth $840 million, had been set aside for loading. A Nordwind representative confirmed the plane's arrival, but wouldn’t say who chartered the plane or anything about its trip, reports the AP. It is thought to be the first time the aircraft has gone to Venezuela; records show it usually flies in Southeast Asia or Russia, and no plans to evacuate Russians from Venezuela have been announced. The Venezuelan government hasn't said anything about the plane, either, and social media has filled in the gaps with theories that the plane brought mercenaries or will take Nicolas Maduro into exile. Russia supports Maduro as Venezuela's president. The plane could be seen still sitting on the tarmac Wednesday (see a photo of it here).

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