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LatinNews Daily - 23 June 2020

VENEZUELA: UK court to rule on legitimate government

On 22 June, the United Kingdom's High Court of Justice began proceedings to determine who the court recognises as the legitimate government of Venezuela, as part of a legal battle over US$1bn of Venezuelan central bank (BCV) gold reserves held by the Bank of England (BoE).

Analysis:

The Nicolás Maduro government has long sought to recover these assets, withheld at the request of Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognised by the UK government as Venezuela’s interim president. With both Maduro and Guaidó claiming responsibility for the gold, High Court Justice Nigel Teare deemed that the first step towards a resolution is to identify which government to recognise as legitimate. Any ruling will have no legal bearing beyond the High Court’s jurisdiction in England and Wales, but both claimants have recognised that the court’s international prestige would make securing its recognition a significant political victory, and may help to resolve similar stalemates over frozen state assets in other countries.

  • The gold itself has to some extent become less significant than the ruling on legitimacy, with a protracted legal battle expected to follow this initial decision, and both sides having already committed to redirecting the money to an independently-managed humanitarian relief fund.
  • Lawyer Andrew Fulton, representing Guaidó’s opposition, has claimed that the relevant matter is not identifying a legitimate government, but instead determining “who is the president of Venezuela”, emphasising that the UK foreign ministry recognised Guaidó as such in February 2019.
  • Nicholas Vineall, representing the BCV, contended that “recognition is made to a government, not to an individual”, and that “recognition of a government has nothing to do with approval”. He highlighted that Guaidó’s representative in London has not been granted a diplomatic visa or access to the Venezuelan embassy, while the UK government has maintained “full and normal reciprocal diplomatic relations” with the Maduro government.

Looking Ahead: The hearing is scheduled to take up to four days, but it is not clear how long it will take for a judgment to be issued. Justice Teare warned that even once this initial question is resolved, the broader case regarding the return of the gold could extend to September or beyond.