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First Venezuela, Now Italy. Who Really Owns All of That “Official” Gold?

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In the past few weeks, we’ve sent you articles about the custody and ownership of Venezuela’s gold.

First, Venezuela requested the return of 14 tons of gold held in custody at the Bank of England. The bank refused to return the gold and said it would be held on account for a future legitimate government of Venezuela.

Next, Venezuela tried to ship about 20 tons of gold on a plane sent from Russia, and another plane headed for Dubai. The U.S. put out the word that anyone in the world handling the Venezuelan gold would face U.S. economic sanctions and possible exclusion from the U.S. dollar payments system. That was enough to keep the gold where it was.

It seems that Venezuela had lost control of its own gold by remote control from the U.S. and UK. As described in this article, Italy is the next in line to learn a lesson about sovereign gold ownership.

Italy’s government (ruled by a coalition of nationalist parties including the right-wing Lega and left-wing Five-star) is in severe financial distress but wants to spend more on social programs. Italy has the third largest gold reserves in the world, after the U.S. and Germany.

The government planned to sell or lease the gold and use the proceeds for spending programs. But, it turns out that about half the gold is stored in New York, London or Switzerland in vaults controlled by the Fed, the Bank of England or the BIS. Ownership of the gold is not in the hands of the government, but in the hands of the Bank of Italy, the central bank.

Now the government is in a fight with its own central bank about who owns the gold. Even if the government wins the argument, it’s not clear the Fed or Bank of England will return it anytime soon. When it comes to gold, governments around the world are learning that you can’t mess with the central banks.

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