CARACAS, March 22 Venezuela exported about 443
million Swiss francs ($456 million) worth of gold to Switzerland
in February, data showed on Tuesday, as the South American
country's central bank carried out swaps to receive cash due to
a biting economic crisis.
Details of the data published by the Swiss customs bureau
were not immediately clear, though Venezuela's central bank's
president in February confirmed to Reuters it had been carrying
out gold swaps.
"It's normal, all central banks do this," said Nelson
Merentes, adding that the operations have time frames of three
to four years with multiple banks, which he did not identify.
"As part of our strategy, the (central bank's) board of
directors has decided to carry out swaps."
The OPEC country is suffering from a severe recession,
triple-digit inflation and chronic product shortages. The
government's currency control system has slashed approval of
dollars for product imports, leading to empty store shelves and
snaking supermarket lines.
The bank has begun negotiations with Deutsche Bank AG
to carry out gold swaps to improve liquidity of its
foreign reserves as it faces heavy debt payments this year, two
sources familiar with the talks told Reuters last month.
Separately, a source said last month that Venezuela's
central bank has taken an unspecified amount of gold out of the
country so it can be certified, which is required for gold that
is used in such swaps. The gold lost its "certificate of good
delivery" in 2011 when late President Hugo Chavez transferred it
from foreign banks to central bank coffers, one of the sources
February's exports came on top of some 1.27 billion Swiss
francs of gold sent to Switzerland in January, Swiss customs
Calls to Venezuela's central bank went unanswered.
($1 = 0.9706 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Pons; Editing by Dan