By November, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order authorizing sanctions on Venezuelan gold — after sending an envoy to warn Ankara off the trade — a Turkish company called Sardes had shuttled $900 million of the precious metal out of the country, Bloomberg reported.
The company had just $1 million in capital, according to regulatory filings in İstanbul.
Sardes, a mysterious company, sprang into existence two months after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro visited his counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Ankara.
The firm started business with a bang in January of 2018, when it imported about $41 million worth of gold from Venezuela, the first such transaction between the two countries in records that go back 50 years. The next month its volume more than doubled, with Sardes transporting almost $100 million worth to Turkey.
It’s not the first time that Turkey has positioned itself as a work-around for countries facing US sanctions, potentially undermining Washington’s efforts to isolate governments it considers hostile or corrupt. Ankara has often tested the boundaries of US tolerance, and the alliance between the key NATO members is now essentially broken, according to two senior US officials.
It’s unclear what underpins Turkey’s support for Maduro beyond a general opposition to US meddling and efforts to overthrow nominally democratic governments. Economic ties between the two nations are barely a factor: Venezuela doesn’t rank among the top 20 trading partners for Turkey, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Official data make it impossible to know where the Venezuelan gold ended up after it landed in Turkey. The Turkish government did not disclose the whereabouts of the gold.
“President Trump has expressed his interest in expanding the trade relationship between the United States and Turkey, an avenue considerably more profitable than anything Maduro might have to offer,” White House National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said.