London High Court rules against Venezuela’s Maduro in a billion-dollar gold battle

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro looks at during a meeting with Alejandro Dominguez, president of the South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, at Miraflores Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 11, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Filória

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LONDON (Reuters) – The High Court in London has rejected President Nicolas Maduro’s recent efforts to seize control of more than $1 billion of Venezuela’s gold reserves stored in the Bank of England’s underground vaults in London.

The court ruled on Friday that past decisions of Venezuela’s Maduro-backed Supreme Court aimed at curtailing opposition leader Juan Guaido’s opinion on gold should be ignored.

This marks the latest victory for Guaido, who won a series of legal clashes over the bullion after the British government recognized him in place of Maduro as president of the Latin American country.

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The judge in the case said: “I have concluded … that the Guaido Council succeeded: the rulings of the Venezuelan Supreme Court (STJ) are not recognizable.”

Both the Maduro and Guaido camps appointed a different board of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and the two issued conflicting instructions on gold reserves.

Lawyers for the Maduro-backed BCV board have said the central bank is considering an appeal after Friday’s ruling, while Guiado, who has seen some international support, said stumble Over the past 18 months, he called it an important victory.

Maduro’s legal team said he would like to sell 31 tons of gold to fund Venezuela’s response to the pandemic and strengthen a health system wracked by years of economic crisis.

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Guaido’s opposition has claimed that the cash-strapped Maduro administration wants to use the money to pay compensation to his foreign allies, which his lawyers deny.

“This decision represents another step in the process of protecting and preserving Venezuela’s international gold reserves for the Venezuelan people,” Guaido said in a statement.

“This kind of fair and transparent judicial process does not exist in Venezuela.”

The British government in early 2019 joined dozens of countries in supporting Guaido, after he declared an interim presidency and denounced Maduro for rigging the 2018 election.

Guaido at the time asked the Bank of England to prevent the Maduro government from accessing gold. Maduro’s central bank then sued the Bank of England to regain control, saying it was depriving BCV of funds needed to fund Venezuela’s response to the coronavirus.

Legal experts said the latest case is unprecedented as it witnessed one country’s highest courts interpreting another country’s constitution.

“This is an unfortunate ruling,” said Sarosh Ziwala of Zaiwalla & Co, which represents the Maduro-backed central bank, adding that he would continue to pursue the case despite Friday’s decision.

Zioullah added: “The British Court of Appeal remains concerned that the cumulative effect of the English court rulings appears to give a simple statement by the UK government recognizing as head of state a person who has no effective control or power over any part of that country.” .

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Mark Jones reports. Editing by Michael Holden, Catherine Evans and Barbara Lewis

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