Carlos Ghosn, the ousted Nissan boss and now an international fugitive, fled Japan to Lebanon on Monday via two transport jets.
Bloomberg has uncovered that the Turkish charter operator of the jets has also been responsible for ferrying gold around the world for the Venezuelan government.
MNG Airlines, a unit of MNG Holding Co., a conglomerate with hotel, finance and transportation services, used cargo aircraft to ship gold from Venezuela to Istanbul.
Chartering jets provides clients with "a cloak of privacy. Planes are often owned by one group yet operated and managed by a specialty company. Still, tail number and registrations can be tracked, partially piercing their secrecy," Bloomberg noted.
Michael Burton, an attorney practicing international trade law, said after the Ghosn drama, MNG's name is on everyone's radar.
MNG states that clients can transport whatever they want in the aircraft, as long as it's not illegal. The company said it had filed a criminal complaint on the unlawful transportation of Ghosn.
"Similarly to a car rental agency, MNG Jet is renting out planes, and does not bear any responsibility for what the passengers do with them," the company told Bloomberg in an email response. "According to the international aviation code, it is not MNG Jet's role, responsibility and rights to enquire about the reasons behind the travels or to check the content of the luggage transported by the passengers in the planes."
On Thursday, right around the same time the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) released an international warrant against Ghosn, Turkey arrested seven people in connection to the smuggling of the former executive.
One MNG employee, who was arrested by Turkish authorities, "admitted to falsifying flight records" in the transportation of Ghosn. He also "confirmed that he acted in his individual capacity, without the knowledge or the authorization of the management of MNG Jet," the company said in a statement.
We reported one year ago, unrelated to MNG, that a private Boeing 777 registered to Russia's Nordwind airline ferried 20 tons of gold from Venezuela to Russia.
Then in February 2019, another report surfaced of 8 tons of gold from Venezuela's Central Bank was shipped abroad via a mysterious cargo plane.
Venezuelan opposition lawmakers said the looting of the gold by the Maduro regime is illegal and warned that Maduro likely intends to sell the gold abroad:
At least 8 tons of gold were removed from the Venezuelan central bank's vaults last week, an opposition legislator and three government sources told Reuters, in the latest sign of President Nicolas Maduro's desperation to raise hard currency amid tightening sanctions.
The gold was removed in government vehicles between Wednesday and Friday last week when there were no regular security guards present at the bank, Legislator Angel Alvarado and the three government sources said.
"They plan to sell it abroad illegally," Alvarado said in an interview. The central bank did not respond to requests for comment. Alvarado and the government sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not say where the central bank was sending the gold. They said the operation took place while central bank head Calixto Ortega was abroad on a trip. In 2018, 23 tons of mined gold were transported from Venezuela to Istanbul by plane, according to sources and Turkish government data.
A Wall Street Journal investigation uncovered how an African gold Refinery--launched by a Belgian in Uganda--is behind the operation to secretly help Maduro get the country’s gold to the market.
The gold landed in Entebbe, Uganda, and then went to the African Gold Refinery (AGR) before it was exported onward, according to the WSJ.
Ghosn's great escape via several charter planes from Japan to Lebanon sheds light on the global aircraft charter industry, where it appears, according to Bloomberg and other past reports, Venezuela has been using mysterious charter planes to shift its gold across the world as it relies on illegal gold exploited from African jungles -- then sold abroad -- as a key source of revenue for survival.