UK High Court rules disputed Venezuela President Maduro cannot access gold held by Bank of England
© WikiMedia (Government of Venezuela)
UK High Court rules disputed Venezuela President Maduro cannot access gold held by Bank of England

The High Court of England and Wales Friday ruled that disputed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not allowed to control Venezuelan gold reserves held by the Bank of England. The ruling comes after a four-day trial in which lawyers for the rival claimants to Venezuela’s presidency, Maduro and Juan Guaido, argued over which administration has the right to control the reserves. Since 2019 both Maduro and Guaido have claimed to be the legitimate President of Venezuela; the UK recognizes Guaido.

The case surrounds a May 2020 request made to the Bank of England by the Maduro-appointed board of the Banco Central de  Venezuela (BCV) to sell some of Venezuela’s gold reserves. The Bank of England refused to carry out this instruction because Guaido appointed a rival BCV board that told the Bank to not give the money to Maduro.

Because of this dispute, the Bank of England asked the High Court to determine whether it should accept instructions from the “Maduro board” or “Guaido board.” The UK High Court initially ruled in July 2020 that Maduro cannot access the funds because the UK doesn’t recognize him as president. Maduro later successfully appealed that verdict, but the UK Supreme Court sent the case back to the High Court upon Guaido’s request.

The present case concerned two central questions brought by the Maduro board that the court considered: whether the court had the right to question the legitimacy of the Guaido board and whether the judgements of Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) voiding Guaido’s appointments should be recognized.

On the first issue, Justice Sara Cockerill ruled that the High Court had the right to question the Guaido board based on the STJ rulings which claimed that the Guaido board was illegitimate. However, Justice Cockerill also ruled that, since the STJ rulings were not rulings concerning property, the rulings are not recognizable by UK courts for the purpose of assigning control of Venezuela’s assets.

Justice Cockerill also ruled on a number of arguments made by the Guaido board that were made superfluous by her ruling on the second issue. Cockerill ruled that recognizing the Maduro board’s control over Venezuela’s assets would be contrary to UK government policy and that the STJ denied Guaido’s board appointees due process in proceedings where their appointments were declared void.

The Justice stopped short of ruling that the STJ was a political arm of the Maduro administration, saying that there was not enough “cogent evidence” to rule that the STJ was corrupt or politically dependent.