FRANKFURT, Germany, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Germany's plans to repatriate some 60 percent of its vast gold reserves stored in U.S. and French vaults "may trigger a chain reaction," a research group said.
"This move by the Bundesbank may trigger a chain reaction, prompting other countries to start repatriating the gold stored in London, New York or Paris," the Center for Research on Globalization said in a note ahead of Wednesday's expected central bank announcement to bring home $115 billion in gold bullion stored at the Federal Reserve of New York and the Bank of France in Paris.
"So far, only countries that have a strained relationship with the U.S. have resorted to gold repatriation," said the research group, based in Montreal. "Now, Bundesbank will be seen as walking in Hugo Chavez's footsteps."
The Venezuelan president, now reported ill with cancer complications, repatriated $11 billion in gold bullion in 2011 and 2012 -- a move he called a "sovereign" step to protect his country's foreign reserves from the U.S. and European economic turmoil.
"If gold repatriation becomes a worldwide trend, it will be obvious that both the U.S. and U.K. have lost their credibility as gold custodians," the research group said.
The Deutsche Bundesbank's repatriation announcement was first reported by the Handelsblatt business daily. A statement from Germany's central bank said simply its news conference Wednesday would be about managing its 270,000 gold bars, the world's No. 2 supply after that of the United States.
Handelsblatt said Germany would take back some of the 1,500 tons of gold bullion it stores at the New York Fed and all 450 tons held with the Bank of France.
The reported decision follows criticism last year by a German independent auditing office known as the Federal Court of Auditors, or Bundesrechnungshof. The office said Germany's gold held abroad had "never been verified physically" and was not under proper control.
This led to a growing chorus of lawmakers in the Bundestag, Germany's Parliament, to demand a return of all German gold in case the global financial crisis escalates, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported.
Some Bundesbank officials have said there is little reason to keep gold outside Germany now that the country is reunified for more than 22 years and at peace.
Most of Germany's reserves have been stored in other countries since the Cold War, following World War II, over fears of a Soviet invasion of West Germany.
Germany's central bank plans to retain some reserves in London and New York for trading and liquidity purposes, Handelsblatt said.
The gold held at the New York Fed is in a vault 80 feet underground in the bedrock of New York's financial district. Nearly 98 percent of the gold is owned by other countries. The rest is owned by the United States and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.