Reuters: Venezuela’s new cryptocurrency is nowhere to be found

7 months ago, the Venezuelan government launched its oil-backed cryptocurrency. However, the government has not given much proof that the Petro (PTR) cryptocurrency actually exists. According to a new special Reuters report, the Petro cryptocurrency and the oil reserves that back it are not anywhere to be found.

Reuters sent a team of reporters to Atapirire, an isolated savanna in the center of the country, which is the only town in an area the government says is brimming with 5 billion barrels of petroleum. Venezuela has pledged those reserves as backing for a digital currency dubbed the “petro,” which Maduro launched in February. This month he vowed it would be the cornerstone of a recovery plan for the crisis-stricken nation.

But Atapirire residents say they have seen no efforts by the government to tap those reserves. And they have little confidence that their struggling village has a front-row seat to a revolution in finance.

“There is no sign of that petro here,” – said homemaker Igdalia Diaz. She launched into a diatribe about her town’s crumbling school, pitted roads, frequent blackouts and perpetually hungry citizens.

It turns out that Venezuela’s petro is hard to spot almost anywhere. Over a period of four months, Reuters spoke with a dozen experts on cryptocurrencies and oil-field valuation, traveled to the site of the pledged oil reserves and scoured the coin’s digital transaction records in an effort to learn more.

The coin is not sold on any major cryptocurrency exchange. No shops are known to accept it.

The few buyers Reuters could locate were those who had posted about their experiences on online cryptocurrency forums. None would identify themselves. One complained of being “scammed.” Another told Reuters he had received his tokens without problem; he blamed U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and “awful press” for hurting the petro’s debut.

Senior government officials have given contradictory statements. Maduro says petro sales have already raised $3.3 billion and that the coin is being used to pay for imports. But Hugbel Roa, a cabinet minister involved in the project, told Reuters on Friday that the technology behind the coin is still in development and that “nobody has been able to make use of the petro … nor have any resources been received.”

Reuters recently visited the Finance Ministry, where the Superintendence of Cryptoassets, the government agency that oversees the petro, is supposed to be housed, but was informed by a receptionist that it “does not yet have a physical presence here.”

The Superintendence’s website is not functioning. Its president, Joselit Ramirez, did not respond to messages on his personal social media accounts. Phone calls to the Industry Ministry, which oversees the agency, went unanswered.

The Information Ministry did not reply to emails seeking comment.

Analysts are skeptical of Maduro’s claims that the petro has already brought in billions in hard currency. They say digital records associated with the initial coin offering, or ICO, do not provide enough information to determine how much, if anything, has actually been raised.

“This certainly doesn’t look like a typical ICO, given the low level of transaction activity,” – said Tom Robinson, chief data officer and co-founder of Elliptic, a London-based blockchain data company. – “We have found no evidence that anyone has been issued a petro, nor of it being actively traded on any exchange.”

A visit by Reuters to the area around Atapirire, meanwhile, showed little oil-industry activity. The only visible rigs were small and aging machines installed years ago. Several were abandoned and covered in weeds.

In an opinion piece posted August 19 on Aporrea, an online Venezuelan commentary and analysis site, former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez estimated it would take at least $20 billion in investment to tap the reserves, money that Venezuela’s troubled state-owned oil company PDVSA does not have.