Mérida, July 6, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab issued arrest warrants for eleven members of Guaido’s inner circle on Friday, including his US and UK representatives.
The citizens were targeted following their reported involvement in the “plunder” of 31 tonnes of Venezuelan gold held in the Bank of England (BoE) and follows a contested London court ruling blocking the government’s efforts to regain control over the assets.
Guaido’s representatives in London and Washington, Vanessa Neumann and Carlos Vecchio, have both been accused of treason, usurpation of office and criminal association, as has his appointed “special commissioner for foreign relations” Julio Borges, who is based in Colombia.
Warrants on the same charges were also issued for Ricardo Villasmil, Giacoma Cortesia, Manuel Rodriguez, Nelson Lugo and Carlos Suarez, who make up Guaido’s ad-hoc Central Bank (BCV) board, which will now attempt to access the US $1.2 billion assets, and Jose Hernandez, Irene de Lourdes and Geraldine Afiuni from Guaido’s Special Attorney’s office.
In addition to the warrants, Saab announced that any local assets belonging to the citizens are to be frozen, and that his office is considering appealing to international policing bodies to assist in their capture. All of the eleven citizens currently live abroad.
“These criminals have acted in favour of foreign power’s interests, concocting to make the Venezuelan people suffer from food, medicine and fuel shortages so as to enrich themselves at the expense of the country,” the attorney general argued, before going on to describe Borges, Neumann and Vecchio as “false representatives” of the country.
Both Vecchio and Borges have pre-existing arrest warrants open against them in Venezuela following their alleged roles in failed attempts to overthrow the Maduro government. Borges has been previously linked to the 2018 drone assassination attempt against the president.
For her part, Neumann has been accused of looking to bargain off Venezuela’s historical claim to the oil-rich and disputed Essequibo Strip to the neighbouring Cooperative Republic of Guyana in exchange for diplomatic recognition from London. The US-Venezuelan citizen was additionally accused by the government of “working with paramilitary groups in Colombia in 2009 and 2010” and “being a US government agent” last week.
In response to Saab’s announcement, Guaido’s “Commission for Foreign Relations” described the charges as “repression,” while the opposition leader defended his team’s efforts to “protect Venezuelan gold in the UK.”
Last Thursday, a UK High Court ruling blocked Maduro’s efforts to regain control over the gold, with Judge Nigel Teare arguing that the court was “bound” by 10 Downing Street’s “unequivocal recognition [of] opposition leader Juan Guaido as president.” While the assets remain blocked, Guaido’s ad-hoc BCV board is expected to file for control in the near future.
In response, the Venezuelan Central Bank pledged to appeal the “outrageous” decision. Government lawyers also claim that it fails to recognise the “reality of the situation on the ground,” in which the Maduro government is "in complete control of Venezuela and its administrative institutions.”
The gold was initially frozen by BoE authorities in November 2018 citing “standard” anti-money-laundering measures.
Following Guaido’s self-declaration as “interim president” in January 2019, gaining immediate recognition from Washington and London, the UK foreign office has since supported a number of regime change attempts and formed a special government-run “Venezuela Reconstruction Unit.”
Similarly, the UK followed the European Union in strengthening its sanctions regime against the country last month, applying asset freezes and travel bans on a number of Venezuelan officials in addition to previous measures. Despite its recognition of Guaido, the UK maintains dual diplomatic relations with both his representative and Maduro’s ambassador to the island, Rocio Maneiro.
After previous attempts to repatriate the reserves, Caracas looked to force the BoE to release the gold in May. Under the proposed resolution deal, the gold was to be sold and the funds directly channelled through the United Nations Development Program to acquire food and medicine to assist in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite registering much fewer cases than neighbouring countries, the coronavirus is increasingly taking hold in the sanction-hit Latin American nation. On Sunday, a record 419 coronavirus cases were identified by authorities, taking the total to 7,169, of which 2,100 have recovered and 65 have passed away. With a rapid increase in recent weeks, the country returned to a “strict” nationwide quarantine this week as part of the week-on-week-off lockdown program which Maduro claimed will be in place “until a vaccine appears.”