UK recognises Juan Guaido as president in Venezuela gold case
High Court rules against Nicolas Maduro in wrestle over $1bn in bullion stored in London bank vault
Venezuela's opposition claimed a victory on Thursday after a London judge ruled that the British government recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as country's president.
The ruling came in a protracted dispute over $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in gold reserves that Venezuela's central bank wants released from underground vaults at the Bank of England to help fund its response to the coronavirus crisis.
The Bank of England said it was unable to act on the instructions because it was "caught in the middle" of competing claims for the presidency after disputed elections in 2018.
The Venezuelan central bank's board was appointed by the government of President Nicolas Maduro, successor to the anti-US populist Hugo Chavez.
A rival board appointed by western-backed Mr Guaido had requested that the release be denied.
Commercial Court judge Nigel Teare was asked to decide which of the two had the authority to make the demand.
The four-day hearing last week was the last part of a battle over the gold and centred on which of the two rival presidents Britain now viewed as Venezuela's legitimate leader.
"Her Majesty's government does recognise Mr Guaido in the capacity of constitutional interim president of Venezuela and, it must follow, does not recognise Mr Maduro as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela," Mr Teare's judgment said.
Mr Guaido's London envoy hailed the ruling as "a victory for the Venezuelan people".
"Our intention now, as always, is to safeguard the gold of the national reserve for the Venezuelan people," opposition envoy Vanessa Neumann told AFP.
"We want to make clear that we never sought the gold."
The rival claims come two years after election results handing Mr Maduro a victory sparked mass protests and a violent police crackdown.
Hundreds of thousands of people fled to neighbouring countries in search of food and safety as the poverty-stricken country plunged into chaos.
Mr Maduro's claim on the presidency is mainly supported by Russia and Cuba.
Mr Guaido has refused to accept the results of the 2018 elections, calling them flawed, and insists that he is interim president pending a fresh vote.
His claim to the presidency in January 2019 has been backed by the US government of President Donald Trump and about 60 other countries.
But the opposition movement has been riven by internal conflicts and Mr Maduro's grip on power has held.
Mr Maduro said last month that he was "prepared to speak respectfully with President Trump" and the White House chief said he "would maybe think about" meeting the Leftist leader.
He started as a bus driver before becoming a trade union leader and then being elected to Parliament in 2000.
He took over the presidency after Chavez’s death in 2013 but pursued many of the same policies with an iron grip on power.
The once prosperous country, home to the world's largest untapped oil reserves, has continued its decline into poverty throughout his rule.
The Maduro-appointed Banco Central de Venezuela board lawyer, Sarosh Zaiwalla, said Thursday's judgment "entirely ignores the reality of the situation".
Mr Zaiwalla said that his clients would seek the court’s leave to file an appeal.
"Mr Maduro's government is in complete control of Venezuela and its administrative institutions, and only it can ensure the distribution of the humanitarian relief and medical supplies needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic," Mr Zaiwalla said.
"This outcome will now delay matters further to the detriment of the Venezuelan people, whose lives are at risk."
If the appeal is granted, the accelerated pace of the case means it could go to the London Court of Appeal in coming weeks.
If that appeal were to prove successful, it would then go to the Supreme Court.
Updated: July 3, 2020 01:21 AM