A British court has refused to return $1 billion of Venezuela’s gold reserves held in London, siding with opposition figure Juan Guaido who asked for the release to be denied.
Judge Justice Teare at the English High Court said the government in London had “unequivocally recognized” Guaido as Venezuela’s president in a case that was initiated by Venezuela’s Central Bank in a bid to reclaim the gold reserves.
Teare’s judgement said: “Her Majesty’s Government does recognize Mr Guaido in the capacity of constitutional interim president of Venezuela and, it must follow, does not recognize Mr Maduro as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela.”
The Central Bank of Venezuela wants the gold to be released from the Bank of England to help fund the nation’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
Maduro’s government described the move as “absurd and extraordinary” as he called for a probe into the matter.
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said Maduro had “asked the Venezuelan courts to immediately open an investigation with the aim of determining the criminal responsibility of those participating in this blatant piracy of Venezuelan gold.”
The Maduro-appointed central bank board lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla said Thursday’s judgement “entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground.”
“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,” he said.
He added: “This outcome will now delay matters further, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people, whose lives are at risk.”
Lawyers representing the Maduro government said they would appeal against the ruling.
Venezuela descended into political turmoil after Guido unilaterally declared himself “interim president” of the country in January last year.
The US, which quickly recognized Guaido’s self-proclaimed presidency, has imposed several rounds of crippling sanctions against the oil-rich country in an attempt to oust Maduro and replace him with Guaido.
The sanctions, which include the illegal confiscation of Venezuelan assets abroad and an economic blockade, have caused enormous suffering for millions of people in the country.
Last year, the US also backed and helped a small group of rogue soldiers to launch a coup — which failed — against the elected government.
There was also an attempt at assassinating the president with a drone in 2018.
The latest attempt against the country came this year, when US-backed mercenaries tried to invade the northern state of La Guaira using high-speed boats. Venezuelan forces, however, foiled the attempt.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has been openly calling for the ouster of Maduro.