UK court asks for more clarity on Venezuela presidency recognition

Protestors demonstrate in February 2019 following a decision by the Bank of England to freeze assets held by Venezuela
·2 min read

The Court of Appeal in London on Monday asked the High Court to re-examine a ruling that said the UK government "unequivocally recognised" Venezuela's opposition leader as president.

A High Court judge in July interpreted a statement by Britain's former foreign minister Jeremy Hunt as meaning London backed Juan Guaido as interim president of the troubled Latin American country.

The ruling came in a dispute over $1 billion in gold reserves that Venezuela's central bank (BCV) wants released from the Bank of England to help fund the country's response to the coronavirus crisis.

The Bank of England said it was unable to act on the instructions because it was "caught in the middle" of competing claims for the presidency after disputed elections in 2018.

At the heart of the case is who has the power to direct the release of the reserves.

The Venezuelan central bank's board was appointed by the government of President Nicolas Maduro, successor to the late anti-US populist Hugo Chavez.

But a rival ad hoc board appointed by Guaido had asked for the release to be denied.

Guiado's January 2019 claim to the presidency was backed by the United States and dozens of other countries.

- 'Access to Venezuela's gold' -

News of the appeals court request was met triumphantly by the Maduro regime.

"The British court decision is another defeat" for "the illegal band led by" Guaido and "their ambitions to make off with Venezuela's riches," Freddy Nanez, minister for communication and information, said on Twitter.

However, Guaido's office pointed out that the court request didn't give Maduro's administration "access to Venezuela's gold."

The three appeals court judges said Hunt's statement was "ambiguous, or at any rate less than unequivocal" and a definitive answer was needed.

They asked the High Court to look again at the issue to determine whether the British government recognises Guaido as president "for all purposes" and not Maduro "for any purpose".

"The lower court judgment had led to a completely unrealistic situation in which the president of the BCV and its board, who are in full control of the BCV's office, mint and day-to-day operations of the central bank in Caracas, were being told that they could no longer deal with very substantial central bank deposits in London," said lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla, representing the Maduro board.

Instead, access to the gold "was being handed over to a group of individuals living outside Venezuela, who the constitutional court in Venezuela had already ruled to have no lawful authority.

"This cannot have been a correct outcome," he added.

Venezuela is home to the world's biggest proven oil reserves but has seen its economy shrink by more than half under Maduro.

The country's socialist government is targeted by a slew of international sanctions, including a US oil embargo.