The Venezuelan regime has unsuccessfully sought to retrieve its gold reserves from the Bank of England since 2018. The ruling is a blow to Nicolas Maduro, who has been crippled by an economic crisis and US sanctions.
The British High Court ruled on Thursday that Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, could not take control of over $1 billion (€890 million) in gold that his government has held in a Bank of England vault.
High Court judge Nigel Teare handed down the ruling, saying that the UK government had "unequivocally" recognized Juan Guaido as constitutional interim president.
Since the court must accept the British government's recognition of any foreign leader as conclusive, it cannot rule on behalf of Maduro.
"The judiciary and the executive must speak with one voice," Teare said. "There cannot be two presidents of Venezuela."
Venezuela's gold reserves have long been stored at the Bank of England, which has the second-largest gold reserves in the world, behind the New York Federal Reserve.
Maduro has unsuccessfully sought to withdraw the gold from the UK since 2018, fearing that it could be caught up in international sanctions.
As the country's economy has spiraled, the Venezuelan government has retrieved some 30 tons of its gold reserves to sell for hard currency in the past two years.
Guaido never 'sought the gold'
Venezuela's Central Bank (BCV) went to court against the Bank of England, after the entity refused to release, due to the competing claim by opposition leader Guaido.
Maduro's government had pledged that the funds raised from selling the gold would be used to import food and medicine through the UN Development Program, arguing that Venezuela desperately needed the money to deal with the economic crisis and the COVID-19 epidemic.
The BCV on Twitter called the decision "absurd" for depriving Venezuela "of the gold it urgently needs to confront the pandemic." The bank's lawyers have said they will appeal the decision.
For his part, Guaido called the ruling a ''great victory'' for his interim government. ''The first thing is that it's protected from the clutches of the dictatorship,'' Guaido said of the gold, adding that, for now, it will remain in the bank's vaults.
"Our intention now, as always, is to safeguard the gold of the national reserve for the Venezuelan people," opposition envoy Vanessa Neumann told the AFP news agency. "We want to make clear that we never sought the gold."
If the BCV's appeal is granted the accelerated pace of the case means it could go to the London Court of Appeal in the coming weeks. If that appeal were to prove successful it would then go up the Supreme Court.
US goes after oil tankers
Maduro still maintains the support of key allies such as Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Cuba. In addition to cash, the Venezuelan government is in great need of gasoline and Iran has helped supply it.
But now US prosecutors have filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to seize the gasoline aboard four tankers that Iran is shipping to Venezuela.
It is the latest attempt by US President Donald Trump's administration to increase economic pressure on not just Venezuela, but also Iran.
A US District Judge issued a warrant for the seizure of the more than 1.1 million barrels of gasoline in four tankers that are en route to Venezuela, the Justice Department said on Thursday.
The warrant would allows US authorities, likely the US Coast Guard, to seize the fuel.
jcg/sms (AP, Reuters)