FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro touches a gold bar as he speaks during a meeting with the ministers responsible for the economic sector at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela sent gold to Mali in 2020 via Russian-owned planes to exchange for euros and U.S. dollars that President Nicolas Maduro’s government used to remain afloat despite U.S. sanctions, an opposition representative said on Wednesday.

Julio Borges, designated by opposition leader Juan Guaido as his chief overseas envoy, told reporters that the gold was refined in Mali and then resold primarily in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to allow for Maduro’s administration to obtain foreign currency cash.

The United States, which accuses Maduro of rigging his 2018 re-election, sanctioned the OPEC nation’s state oil company in early 2019 in a bid to pressure Maduro to resign. His socialist government has increasingly turned to the sale of monetary gold as a source of income, with central bank reserves dropping to a 50-year low.

Washington has also sanctioned the South American country’s gold exports.

“Since 2016, Maduro has actively encouraged, supported, and facilitated the illegal mining, distribution, and sale of gold by his inner circle, funding repression, treating the country’s natural resources as his own, and devastating fragile ecosystems,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said.

The spokesperson did not directly address the role of Mali and the UAE in the gold trade.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Mali’s government.

Reporting by Mayela Armas in Caracas; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Bill Berkrot

Source: Reuters