The UK Supreme Court Monday allowed an appeal by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó in a dispute over whether he or President Nicolás Maduro has control over more than US $1 billion of Venezuela’s international gold reserves held by the Bank of England.
The dispute is centered on whether the UK Government has recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s president. Maduro was re-elected as president in a highly controversial presidential election held in May 2018. The UK government considered this election deeply flawed. The Venezuelan National Assembly did not recognize the validity of this election and announced Juan Guaidó as the interim president.
Maduro appointed the Maduro Board to represent the Central Bank of Venezuela. Guaidó appointed the Guaidó Board as an ad hoc board of the Central Bank under a “transition statute” passed by the Venezuelan National Assembly. The Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice has held the transition statute null and void. Both boards claim exclusive authority and have issued conflicting instructions to the Bank of England about the gold reserves.
The Maduro Board sued the Bank of England in May 2020 to release the gold reserves. The Guaidó Board instructed the Bank of England not to hand over the gold to the Maduro government. The UK Commercial Court ruled that the UK Government had conclusively recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s Head of State. The Commercial Court further held that the transition statute and the appointments to the Guaidó Board were non-justiciable as they involved the act of state doctrine. The Maduro Board successfully appealed to the UK Court of Appeal on both issues.
The Court of Appeal ruled that, while the UK Government had recognized Guaidó as de jure head of state, it impliedly recognized Maduro as de facto head exercising some or all of the powers of the state. The Court of Appeal also held that the act of state issue could only be answered after determining whether the UK Government actually recognizes Maduro as head of state and whether the English courts should recognize the judgments of Venezuelan courts.
The UK Supreme Court has overturned the decision of the Court of the Appeal and stated that the UK Government’s recognition of Guaidó as the interim President of Venezuela is “clear and unequivocal” and that English courts should conclusively accept the government’s statements as to whether an individual is the head of state. The Supreme Court remitted the act of state issue to the Commercial Court.
However, in the case that the Venezuelan court nullifies the transition statute on the ground that Guaidó is not the constitutional interim president, UK courts will not recognize such a decision as it would be contrary to the views of the UK government.
The Guaidó government has welcomed the decision.