Venezuela’s embattled ruler Nicolás Maduro has been denied access to roughly $1 billion in gold reserves held by the Bank of England after a UK court ruled that the British government has recognized Juan Guaidó as president.
Venezuela’s central bank, which is still controlled by Maduro’s government, had sued the Bank of England, seeking access to €930 million ($1 billion) in gold reserves that it said would help the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Venezuela intended to liquidate the gold to purchase health care supplies and food through the United Nations Development Programme, according to court documents.
But the British government, along with the US government and dozens more worldwide, recognizes Guaidó, rather than Maduro, as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Venezuela’s political turmoil stems from 2018, when Maduro secured another six-year term in presidential elections widely viewed as a sham.
The High Court in London ruled against the cash-strapped Maduro government on Thursday, with judge Nigel Teare saying that Guaidó had been “unequivocally recognized” as president of Venezuela by the UK government.
Guaidó’s representative to London hailed the verdict.
“It is a victory for the Venezuelan people and rule of law and demonstrates the importance of separation of powers,” the envoy, Vanessa Neuman, told CNN. “The gold is where it has always been, in the [Bank of England]. It is Maduro who sought to remove it and we have protected it for the people.”
The Venezuelan Central Bank said it would appeal the ruling.
“The [central bank] will immediately appeal the absurd and unusual decision by an English court which intends to deprive the Venezuelan people of gold which is so urgently needed to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said in a tweet on Thursday.
Maduro’s representatives in court called the ruling “unsatisfactory.”
“It is very rare for a case of such international legal importance to be decided by reference to legal questions alone without taking into account the facts on the ground,” lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla said in a statement.
The Bank of England previously told CNN that it “does not comment on individual customer relationships.”
The UK central bank blocked a similar attempt by the Venezuelan government to gain access to its gold in late 2018, according to the Financial Times.
The bank holds around 400,000 bars of gold in its vaults, worth over £200 billion ($244.6 billion), according to its website. That makes it the second largest keeper of gold in the world after the New York Federal Reserve.