LONDON -Britain’s Supreme Court on Monday ruled to allow in part an appeal by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido in a case over whether he or President Nicolas Maduro controls over $1 billion worth of Venezuelan gold stored at the Bank of England.
The tug-of-war over the gold has centered on the issue of whether the British government recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state. The Maduro and Guaido camps have each appointed a different board to the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and the two have issued conflicting instructions concerning the gold reserves and a similar sum held by Deutsche Bank.
The court said a decision last year by the English Court of Appeal to overturn an earlier High Court ruling was “misplaced” as the British government’s recognition of Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president was “clear and unequivocal”.
In a press release, the Supreme Court said British courts were bound to accept that the British government does not recognise Maduro as Venezuela’s president “for any purpose”.
However, the court said it remained necessary to consider whether to recognise judgments by Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruling that Guaido’s transition statute was null and void, and it asked the English Commercial Court to do so.
Maduro’s BCV sued the Bank of England in May 2020 to recover control of the gold, which it says it will sell to finance Venezuela’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and bolster a health system gutted by years of economic crisis.
The BoE has refused to release the gold since the British government in early 2019 joined dozens of nations in backing Guaido on the basis that Maduro’s election win the previous year had been rigged. Venezuela’s opposition has alleged that Maduro’s cash-strapped administration wants to use the money to pay off his foreign allies, which his lawyers deny.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, a London-based lawyer at Zaiwalla & Co, which represents the Maduro BCV board, said on Monday: “Our client looks forward to continuing this case, with a view to showing that the Board of the BCV in Caracas is the only validly appointed authority to deal with Venezuela’s foreign assets in the interests of the Venezuelan population.”
Maduro’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Monday the decision was “surprising and irrational” and a plot by the British government and “imposter” Guaido to rob the Venezuelan people.
Guaido, in a statement, welcomed the ruling and said he and his appointees would “continue dedicated to the constitutional duty to protect the assets of the Republic for future generations.”