The Bank of England (BoE) has come under fire following reports of a clandestine meeting with senior representatives of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.
The BoE is due to meet high-ranking Venezuelan officials in London tomorrow to discuss the return of gold worth $550m stored in the bank’s vaults, according to sources.
Today it emerged MP Andrew Lewer wrote to BoE governor Mark Carney and chancellor Philip Hammond earlier this week, urging them to cancel the meeting.
“Were such a meeting to take place it would pose a significant reputational risk to the Bank and may be in violation of US Treasury-imposed sanctions,” Lewer wrote.
The meeting is due to be attended by Venezuelan minister of finance Simon Zerpa, who was sanctioned by the US Treasury last year over corruption concerns.
Calixto Ortega Sanchez, president of the Venezuelan Central Bank, will also be present. Lewer said that Sanchez’s appointment was not ratified by the country’s National Assembly, and so "he is not a legitimate president".
A source close to the Venezuelan National Assembly told City A.M. BoE deputy governor Sir David Ramsden will attend the meeting. It is unclear whether Carney will be present.
The representatives of Maduro’s government plan to discuss the repatriation of 14 tonnes of gold as the country battles against hyperinflation.
The gold deposit is believed to be the last of country’s bullion reserves in the BoE, which held 99 tonnes of Venezuelan gold in 2011.
Separately, City A.M. has viewed a letter to Mark Carney dated 30 November, seemingly from members of the Venezuelan opposition, calling on the governor to refuse the request.
“Without doubt the intention of Maduro and his regime is to steal these resources that rightly belong to the people, either for their own personal gain, or to finance further repression of the people,” the letter read.
It is understood Carney discussed the gold transfer during a meeting at the G20 summit in Argentina last week.
The source said the meeting showed Venezuela is “desperately short of cash” and raised concerns over whether Zerpa and Sanchez are legitimate representatives of the country.
Lewer told City A.M.: “South America isn't always at the top of the political agenda in the UK and particularly not at the moment with Brexit, but I do consider this to be a very serious issue and urge the bank to give it its full consideration.”
The Venezuelan government, led by dictator Maduro, has come under intense scrutiny for human rights violations.
In June the UN’s Human Rights Council issued a report detailing extrajudicial killings, torture and a crackdown on dissent in the country.
The BoE and the Treasury declined to comment.