Mexico City, Mexico, December 20, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The United Kingdom’s highest court issued a ruling on Monday favoring opposition figure Juan Guaidó and his efforts to wrest control of US$1.7 billion worth of Venezuelan gold stored at the Bank of England (BoE).
The Monday decision is the latest episode in the legal struggle by the democratically-elected Nicolás Maduro government to regain access to the reserves. Following what the court described as the “one voice principle," the court ruled that under the UK’s constitutional arrangements political recognition of foreign states falls to the country’s executive.
In 2019, Conservative UK Prime Minister Theresa May recognized Guaidó, then president of the National Assembly, as “interim president” as part of the US-led effort to oust the Maduro government. Her successor, Boris Johnson, has maintained this recognition despite being out of step with the vast majority of the world’s governments, including the European Union.
Overturning an earlier ruling by the English Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court determined that Maduro was not recognized as president of Venezuela “for any purpose”, further arguing that the appeal court was “wrong” to suggest there was an “implied recognition” of the Maduro administration.
Citing the work of legal scholar Ti-chiang Chen, International Law expert Dock Currie told Venezuelanalysis that the UK’s political recognition of Guaidó as president of Venezuela was “illegal” and constituted an act of intervention.
“Juan Guaidó has never been elected president of Venezuela and his recognition as such by the imperialist states is itself a crime, an illegal interference with Venezuela’s sovereignty,” said Currie, an articling student in Criminal Defense Law in Victoria, BC (Canada) and graduate of the Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law.
“The expropriation of Venezuela’s overseas holdings by these imperialist states and their being handed to Guaidó exponentially compounds this crime,” he added.
For his part, UK investigative journalist John McEvoy warned that “this precedent would allow the UK [government] to asset strip any foreign state upon a change of recognition” and called it a “modern expression of piracy”.
The ruling is the latest in a long saga in UK courts over who controls Venezuela’s 31 tons of gold deposited at the Bank of England. The Maduro government has been trying to secure the release of these funds in order to purchase food and medicine amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
The high court’s decision did not immediately hand control of the gold reserves to Guaidó, with the BoE retaining possession of the assets. The UK Supreme Court instead considered that the Commercial Court should weigh whether judgments made by the Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) “should be recognised or given effect.”
The TSJ has repeatedly ruled that the “transition statute” passed by the opposition-dominated Venezuelan National Assembly in February 2019 that empowered Guaidó to appoint a board to the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) was null and void. Venezuela’s highest judicial authority likewise ruled that the outgoing National Assembly’s decree to extend its mandate after it expired in January 2021 was unconstitutional.
The UK Supreme Court, however, was clear in its directive that the Commercial Court could not give effect to rulings by foreign courts if they would run contrary to the UK’s domestic policy, which has recognized Guaidó as president of Venezuela.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, who represents the BCV board appointed by the Venezuelan government, said his client was looking forward to continuing the case and demonstrating that “the BCV in Caracas is the only validly appointed authority to deal with Venezuela's foreign assets in the interests of the Venezuelan population."
For his part, Guaidó celebrated the latest ruling. The opposition leader and his associates have drawn fierce criticism for their handling of foreign assets in various international arbitration cases.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.