Chávez’ Gold – Heist Opportunity of a Century

Say whay?

Well, it may not be the article most people read first, but this is interesting. Hugo Chávez has ordered a “repatriation” of Venezuela’s gold reserves (means “get it home”) from where it currently resides – spread out in banks in more affluent, developed countries like England and Switzerland, where it has resided for quite some time.

Venezuela has about 365 tons of gold, which is worth quite a bit of money, and 211 of those tons are outside its borders at the moment, held in secure vaults in Europe and other places. Those 211 tons are worth about $12 billion dollars, and it’s going to have to be transported in about 40 batches, traders say. Still, that will make every single batch worth about $300 million dollars. That’s right.

Really, opportunity of a century?

Seems a bit over the top, right? There’s got to be others that will be worth more, right? Wrong, actually. Gold is very cool and shiny, and it looks good as jewellert and such, but it’s not much used as a means of payment anymore. The only people who really do that these days are rogue governments and loonies… but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to sell, melt down, convert into objects that can easily be converted into “foldin’ money”. 

The last time an amount of gold on this scale was moved across state lines was in 1936, when Spain sent 510 tons of gold to the Soviet Union before the outbreak of civil war in the country. That was a big deal, of course. Spain had, at that time, the 4th largest gold reserve in the world, totaling about 635 tons of fine gold. They transported the gold packaged in wooden crates, on trucks and by train, guarded by militiamen from France and Spanish Carabineers, and by boat the final leg of the journey to the Soviet Union. It was transported on military vessels, and was received by forces from the NKVD – Stalin’s secret police and enforcers of the Soviet powers. Not the kind of people you’d want to mess with, in other words.

Anyway, enough with the history lesson – it’s been about 75 years. You get the point. Chances are another opportunity for a heist like this won’t come up in a long, long time.

Security in Unprecedented Situations

There’s been some discussion among those who know these things concerning how you would go about securing 40 transports of ~300 million dollars each, and there are just about as many ways to do this as there are people who think about it. There’s no bulletproof way to do it, of course – that should be clear from the get-go. Transporting something over great distances carries with it both natural and man-made risks, and not all those can be whittled away to nothing. While most risks can be reduced, there’s no way to eliminate them.

One method that has been discussed is simply to not move the gold at all, and Chávez can still have it safe at home in Venezuela. But… that’s not possible, you say? Well, it is, and it’s quite simple; buy gold here, with money you get from selling the gold you’ve got there. Of course, 211 tons is a bit over the top for this method, and it would take a long time, but it’s possible. The problem that pops up here (well, one of them) is the danger of the unregulated transport of gold that will occur if this plan is put into play. 

As usual, people with no physical security experience or certification wants to chime in, but the discussion in those circles seems to center more on who knows more about theoretical economics than the actual security issues that will face those who will be charged with planning and executing  the move of the gold, and those two are quite separate areas of interest. Obviously.

Planning for security when there is no real precedence to draw on can be difficult, and the process can be both lengthy and costly – but necessary. There are probably more people than us here at SB who’ve spotted an opportunity to pull off the heist of the century when this thing goes down. Whether someone would manage to bag one batch or more, it would be a huge score. So what are the choices here?

Big vs. Small

That’s the first question anyone who’s going to be in on the planning of security for the operation will ask. A big operation – think soldiers, armored vehicles, guns and scary black body armor and helmets – will call a lot of attention to the whole ordeal, which means that it’s going to be hard to keep details secret, hard to keep track of all the personell involved and hard to keep the situation under control if it spins out of the planned framework of the operation. Such large security operations can also have other negative effects, most notably on the surrounding areas where the operation is taking place, and on the people who reside in such areas.

A small operation, on the other hand, will generate little attention, and the number of people that have to be coordinated is small, and the risk of someone “spilling their guts” or selling information to the wrong people is smaller. Not gone, mind you, but smaller. A small operation will mean more secrecy – or a better chance of it – but might also leave the operation open to more vulnerabilities, simply because there are fewer people and less equipment to deal with situations that might occur.

It’s a balancing act that is never easy, but always interesting.

The planning stages of this operation is probably just beginning, and it will be extremely interesting to see how it turns out – and if anyone takes a poke at bagging themselves 300 million dollars… or more.