UK High Court to decide battle for Venezuela’s gold reserves

·3-min read
President Nicolas Maduro has been accused of using “disproportionate force” against protesters in Venezuela (Reuters)
President Nicolas Maduro has been accused of using “disproportionate force” against protesters in Venezuela (Reuters)

A titanic battle between warring politicians in Venezuela for control of the country’s £1.3 billion gold bullion reserves is being heard by a High Court judge in London this week.

On one side of the dispute is Nicolas Maduro, who was re-elected as President in 2018 amid international condemnation of alleged vote buying and electoral fraud.

Facing him is Juan Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s Opposition and the man recognised by the UK government as the true head of state.

Both men have rival boards to oversee the Banco Central de Venezuela and are fighting for control of the gold bullion which is currently held in the Bank of England.

The costly legal battle is before Mrs Justice Cockrill in the Commercial Court of the Royal Courts of Justice for a full trial of the issues which is expected to last six days.

At the heart of the dispute are rulings by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) in Venezuela, including that Guaido’s attempt to gain control of the gold was “unlawful”.

File photo dated 21/01/20 of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left) and Venezuela’s Opposition leader Juan Guaido at Foreign Office in London for talks. A landmark legal battle over who the UK Government recognises as president of Venezuela is set to be considered by the UK’s highest court. Issue date: Monday July 19, 2021. (Alberto Pezzali/PA) (PA Wire)
File photo dated 21/01/20 of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left) and Venezuela’s Opposition leader Juan Guaido at Foreign Office in London for talks. A landmark legal battle over who the UK Government recognises as president of Venezuela is set to be considered by the UK’s highest court. Issue date: Monday July 19, 2021. (Alberto Pezzali/PA) (PA Wire)

Guaido’s legal team said STJ decisions were taken “at a speed incompatible with any genuine judicial deliberation”, suggesting the outcomes were “pre-determined” and the court had been “influenced” by Maduro’s side.

Maduro’s vice president accused Guaido in a televised address of being a “white collar thief” behind a “plot to keep Venezuela’s gold”, suggesting he is in “collusion” with the Bank of England.

Guaido’s legal team argue the STJ’s judgments should be struck down by the UK court, paving the way for him to take control of the gold bullion.

They rely on positions adopted by the British government, including the recognition of Guaido as the head of state and putting two senior STJ judges on a UK Sanctions List.

In December last year, the Supreme Court ruled that UK judges must accept the British government recognises Guaido as president of Venezuela.

Lawyers for Maduro’s board at the bank brought the legal claim, seeking to release the gold to be sold to help with the country’s Covid crisis.

They argue the rulings of the STJ should be respected by British courts and the legal dispute should not focus on allegations against the Maduro regime.

Commenting on the case, Sarosh Zaiwalla, a senior partner at Zaiwalla & Co. which is representing the Banco Central de Venezuela, said: “This case has always sat at the intersection of law and politics, and this hearing is no different.

“At stake is the question of whether the English courts can sit in judgment on the validity of decisions made by another sovereign nation’s highest court, which has clear implications for the safety of the United Kingdom as a haven for foreign sovereign assets.”

The Maduro board has urged the High Court judge to exercise “extreme caution” when assessing claims against the STJ’s independence.

“Evidence of corruption in the foreign court must go beyond go beyond generalised, anecdotal material”, said the legal team, led by Richard Lissack QC, in written submissions.

”First-hand evidence is not strictly necessary, but allegations against the integrity of a foreign judicial system must in any case be supported with evidence that enables the court to examine their basis, and which is sufficiently detailed and focused to justify them.”

The trial continues.

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