After 20 years of Chavista rule, Venezuela is now in a state of total collapse. Not only has the general economy been ruined, but its vital oil industry is also rapidly declining in output. Revenues needed to maintain the military and police are decreasing month on month. All normal societal functions, including transport, electricity, water supply, health services and education, have largely ceased to operate. Thousands have died of preventable diseases, mainly the most vulnerable. Millions have now fled the country. Adding to all of this, a new political crisis spells the end for the regime.

The end of Chavista rule is undoubtedly a good thing – international action can help bring this about more quickly. The United States has just sanctioned the state oil company PDVSA, which has long been a vehicle for corruption and graft. The regime will undoubtedly attempt to maintain its incomes and assets abroad, but international action can prevent yet more money and assets from being taken from the Venezuelan people.

Since 1999, some 1.5 trillion US dollars of revenue have been collected by the Chavista state, 12 times the amount the United States spent on the Marshall Plan. A significant part of this $1.5 trillion has been stolen and squirreled away in bank accounts around the world. Exactly how much is difficult to say, but some estimates put the figure at US $300 billion. It is probably much higher than that. Whatever the exact number, this is the largest theft in global history and deserves to be treated much more seriously than it has so far.  To date, only the American government has made significant progress in identifying where the money is. In one example, Chavez’s former treasurer was recently arrested for the theft of over US $1 billion.

The President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, has been sworn in as interim President of Venezuela according to Article 233 of the constitution. He has been recognised by the Organisation of American States, Canada and the United States and many other countries. People power is being mobilised to make this a reality, and hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets, even from the poorer barrios who supported Chavez’s rise to power. Guaido, of the centre-left party Volundad Popular, has made recovering Venezuela’s stolen assets a top priority. In two separate acts, linked here and here, the National Assembly have called upon more than a dozen nations and entities, including the United States and the European Union, to freeze Venezuelan state assets held abroad.

On Sunday Juan Guaido wrote to Theresa May and Mark Carney, asking them not to release the almost $1.2 billion in gold held at the Bank of England. The regime would quickly sell off the gold and use the money ‘to repress and brutalise the Venezuelan people’, he wrote. MPs such as Crispin Blunt and Andrew Lewer have also urged the Bank of England to block the transfer. According to Blunt, releasing the gold would ‘only serve to line the private pockets of a corrupt regime’.

Britain should act quickly in securing the gold. Furthermore, the UK government should identify the regime’s bank accounts and other assets and freeze them before transferring them to the control of the Guaido government. Cutting off all remaining sources of funds for the regime is a critical step that will deprive Maduro of the resources needed to bribe his supporters.  This is all the more important now that the US Government is sanctioning PDVSA and diverting its income to the interim government.

At the same time, the authorities need to track down stolen funds that have passed through the country, or still remain here held by individuals with links to the regime. Moreover, our government should take action against individuals and institutions in the UK which have facilitated Venezuelan corruption through the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs). One in particular, Leonardo Gonzalez Dellan, has been added to the US Treasury’s sanctions list of ‘Specially Designated Nationals’ through his connection to Globovision, a television company linked to the regime. No doubt a huge amount of work needs to be done by the authorities.

The amounts involved are substantial. Again, it is unfortunate that so little has been done to date to address this issue, but action now is better late than never. Once it has returned to democracy, Venezuela will need all the help it can get to rebuild their country.

Venezuela has been plundered by a corrupt dictatorship, aided and sustained by individuals here in the United Kingdom. Recovering what is left of Venezuela’s stolen assets is the least we can do to help.

Jamie Nugent is Chairman of The Venezuela Campaign