The UK’s High Court “unequivocally recognizes” Juan Guaidó as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela in a crucial ruling over the release of $1 billion in gold held at the Bank of England.
The case was brought by Banco Central de Venezuela (BVC), controlled by a board appointed by President Nicolas Maduro, which last April requested the Bank of England to release part of its gold reserves to fund the country’s impoverished response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Guaidó, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly and interim president, asked the Bank of England to deny the release of gold to the Maduro government, claiming it would be used for corrupt purposes.
The Bank of England, which provides gold custodian services to developing nations, said it was “caught in the middle of rival claims” as to who was authorized to make the demand. The bank refused to transfer the funds to the BVC.
During a four-day preliminary hearing in June, lawyers representing the BVC argued that while the UK “does not approve of the Maduro government” and considers it to be “illegitimate,” it “unequivocally recognized” Maduro’s leadership by continuing to maintain full diplomatic relations. They also argued that recognizing Guaidó as head of state would be “an impermissible intervention in the affairs of Venezuela.”
However, Commercial Court judge Nigel Teare ruled that the UK government recognizes “Guaidó in the capacity of the constitutional interim president of Venezuela.” It must follow, the judge continued, that the UK does not recognize Maduro for the position.
The Court’s decision came a few days after Maduro said the head of the EU mission in Caracas had 72 hours to leave the country after the EU bloc announced sanctions against 11 Venezuelan officials.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, a lawyer representing Maduro’s BVC, said the bank will appeal the judgment as it “entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground,” where “Maduro’s government is in complete control of Venezuela and its administrative institutions.”
Understanding Venezuela’s Presidential Crisis
In 2013, Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez as Venezuela’s president. Maduro was re-elected for a second term in 2018 after highly controversial elections, claimed to be vote-rigged and boycotted by the opposition.
Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, led by Guaidó, did not recognize the re-election and argued that the country’s presidency was vacant. In January 2019, Guaidó cited constitutional articles declaring himself acting president until free and credible presidential elections can be held.
More than 50 countries, including the UK, recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s acting president. Maduro, however, called Guaidó a US puppet and, supported by China and Russia amongst others, remained in the presidential palace, with control over the police, military, and other key institutions such as the electoral body and the Supreme Court.