Venezuela's vice president said Tuesday the socialist government is "girding itself for battle" in case the highest court in Britain recognises opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate leader, in a case that could determine the fate of gold worth $1 billion.
A British legal battle lasting more than a year has ended up at the Supreme Court in London for four days of deliberations that started Monday.
At the heart of the case is who has the power to direct the release of Venezuela's 32 tons of gold reserves: the government of President Nicolas Maduro or former National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who claimed election fraud and declared himself interim president, a move recognized by 50 countries.
"Venezuela is girding for an historic battle for the gold that belongs to everyone and to all the Venezuelans in England...gold that illegal appropriated," said Vice President Delcy Rodríguez during a speech in Caracas.
"Who can have confidence in depositing their gold for safekeeping in the Bank of England if tomorrow it just occurs to someone (...) not to recognize a government to retain the resources of a country?" she said.
The five judges of the British Supreme Court could take weeks or even months to reach a verdict, and their ruling could set a precedent for other European banks that house Venezuelan reserves.
The Court of Appeal in October asked for a re-examination of a High Court judgement that said the British government "unequivocally recognised" Venezuela's opposition leader as president.
The High Court interpreted a statement by former foreign minister Jeremy Hunt as meaning London backed Juan Guaido as interim president.
The troubled Latin American country is currently led by Maduro, successor to the late populist Hugo Chavez.
The British court rulings have been made in connection with a dispute over gold reserves that Venezuela's central bank wants the Bank of England to release.
The BoE said it could not act on the instructions because of competing claims for the presidency after disputed the Venezuelan elections in 2018.
Ahead of this week's hearing, the British government maintained in a statement that it "has the right to decide who to recognise as the legitimate head of a foreign state.
"The UK recognises Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela and consequentially he is the only individual recognised to have the authority to act on behalf of Venezuela as its head of state."
The Venezuelan central bank's board was appointed by Maduro, but a rival ad hoc board appointed by Guaido asked for release of the gold to be denied.