A UK judge is soon anticipated to rule in the case of who has the rightful claim to $1 .8 billion worth of Venezuelan gold stashed in the Bank of England's vault in London, reports AP.
A decision by Justice Nigel Teare is expected in the next few days, as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the bullion is vitally needed to fund the cash-starved nation’s struggle with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bank of England froze an estimated $1.2 billion worth of Venezuelan gold in its vaults in 2019, after the UK sided with a number of Washington’s allies in recognizing the opposition’s self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaido as the Latin American nation’s legitimate leader.
The bullion is just part of the tens of billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets frozen in banks abroad.
Venezuela’s Power Tug-of-War
For over a year Venezuela has witnessed a power struggle between President Nicolas Maduro, who was inaugurated for a second term in January 2019 after winning elections in May 2018 with 67 percent of the vote, and opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself “interim president” and demanded fresh elections, alleging that Maduro had rigged the presidential election two years ago.
Although UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt recognized Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim president and Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with the opposition leader earlier this year, the United Kingdom continues to have diplomatic ties with Nicolas Maduro's government.
Accordingly, Rocio Maneiro, Nicolas Maduro's ambassador, represents the Latin American country at its Embassy in London, while British Ambassador Andrew Soper is stationed in Caracas.
Juan Guaido’s named envoy to the UK has not yet been granted diplomatic credentials by the British side.
Arguing that President Nicholas Maduro has retained command over most branches of Venezuela's government, including the military, experts suggest that he is in a rightful position to claim the gold.
“If a government is in de facto control of a territory, and this is recognized by the maintenance of full and normal diplomatic relations, this should be treated as formal recognition. On our case, the law is clear,” said Leigh Crestohl, an attorney representing the Central Bank of Venezuela administration appointed by Maduro.
Juan Guaido has been alleging that Maduro's government is “illegitimate and corrupt”, as he urges the London court to order the Bank of England to withhold the gold.
The opposition leader’s lawyers recently maintained at a four-day hearing that the National Assembly leader became Venezuela's legitimate ruler under provisions of the country's constitution.
Venezuela’s Political Crisis
Venezuela found itself in the grips of a major political crisis in January 2019, after opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido, enjoying the backing of the US and a number of Washington’s allies, proclaimed himself “interim president” and demanded fresh elections weeks after President Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated for a second term.
The country was further plunged into economic crisis after the US enforced sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil-giant PDVSA and seized PDVSA properties overseas.
Billions of dollars more in assets, kept by Caracas in US banks, were frozen, with countries like the UK following suit.