WASHINGTON (AFP) - The International Monetary Fund kicked off the sale of more than 400 tonnes of gold with a wallop, saying Monday it sold almost half to India, the worlds biggest gold consumer, at near-record prices. The IMF announced it sold 200 tonnes of gold to Indias central bank over a two-week period last month for a total of 6.7 billion dollars to bolster its finances as it increases lending amid the global economic crisis. The sale to India was nearly half the 403.3 tonnes of gold that the IMF has targeted for sale over the coming years and came as gold prices were close to record highs. The IMF said the transaction, which was in the process of being settled, involved daily sales that were phased over a two-week period during October 19-30. Each daily sale was conducted at a price set on the basis of market prices prevailing that day, it said, in accordance with the institutions founding document. I strongly welcome this transaction with the Reserve Bank of India, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF managing director, said in a statement. This transaction is an important step toward achieving the objectives of the IMFs limited gold sales program, which are to help put the funds finances on a sound long-term footing and enable us to step up much-needed concessional lending to the poorest countries. The Washington-based IMF, which currently holds 3,217 tonnes of gold, is the third-largest official holder of the precious metal after the United States and Germany. India is the worlds biggest consumer of gold, importing between 700 and 800 tonnes of the metal every year or 20 percent of global demand. A senior IMF official said that the IMF was lucky in selling the 200 tonnes to India for roughly 1,045 dollars an ounce, compared with 850 dollars an ounce in April 2008. Of course, this is only half the sale that weve completed, so we dont want to get ahead of our sales. We still have another half to go I hope well still be lucky, the official said in a conference call with reporters, declining to comment on other potential interested parties. Gold has found new luster amid the global financial crisis as investors seek shelter from economic uncertainty. The price of gold shot to an all-time high of 1,070.80 dollars an ounce on October 14 as a weakening dollar made the precious metal cheaper for investors holding other currencies, pushing up demand. The price of gold has risen by more than 20 percent since the start of 2009. In the week prior to the Indian central banks gold purchase, Indians spent nearly 2.0 billion dollars buying gold during Hindu festivities, an increase compared with 2008 despite record prices, according to the World Gold Council. The council reported gold sales in India rose 5.7 percent to 56 tonnes from a year earlier in the week of October 12-19, which is considered the most auspicious period to buy gold according to Indian tradition. On September 18, the IMF executive board approved the sale of 403.3 tonnes of gold, about one-eighth of its holdings, but assured it would do so in a way that would prevent disruption of the gold market. Under the plan, the IMF offers to sell gold directly to central banks or other official sector holders. If official demand were insufficient, the IMF said it could conduct the gold sales on-market in a phased manner over time, in line with an approach already followed by central banks. The IMF would be constrained by the overall ceilings agreed by the central banks, which started on September 27, of 400 tonnes annually for the next five years. The IMF reiterated Monday its commitment to inform markets before any on-market sales begin.