The Daily Telegraph
Maduro can use Bank of England gold, Court of Appeal rules
NICOLAS MADURO, Venezuela’s disputed president, is poised to access a contested £800 million of gold bullion in Bank of England vaults after a landmark ruling from the Court of Appeal over who effectively leads the country.
The money – which Mr Maduro says he will use to tackle the coronavirus pandemic – has been blocked since the UK Government officially recognised Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela in February 2019.
Amid Venezuela’s collapsing economy, Mr Maduro attempted to withdraw the gold, but was blocked by the Bank of England.
In July, the High Court ruled that the Government has “unequivocally recognised” Mr Guaido as interim president of Venezuela, and that he therefore has the authority to give instructions in relation to the gold. Yesterday, that decision was questioned by the Court of Appeal, which found that a February 2019 statement by Jeremy Hunt, the then foreign secretary, was “ambiguous, or less than unequivocal”.
In his judgment, Lord Justice Males, sitting with Lords Justice Lewison and Phillips, said Mr Hunt’s statement “might have said in terms that Her Majesty’s Government did not recognise Mr Maduro in any capacity, but it did not”. The judge said the case should be reconsidered by the High Court to determine whether the Government “recognises Mr Guaido as president of Venezuela for all purposes and therefore does not recognise Mr Maduro as president for any purpose”.
Mr Maduro’s lawyers in London have argued that the Banco Central de Venezuela, which owns the gold, should be allowed – on his order – to sell the gold. They have reached a deal with the United Nations Development Programme to transfer the £800 million to them, so that the funds can be used to combat coronavirus in the country. But the Bank of England says it is “caught in the middle” of rival claims to the gold, from the BCV board and an “ad hoc” board appointed by Mr Guaido.
Neither leader has responded to the Court’s decision, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has not responded to The Telegraph’s request for comment. A Bank of England spokesman declined to comment.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, a lawyer for BCV, said the July ruling had “led to a situation” in which the administration which is in “full control of the BCV’S operations, were being told that they could no longer deal with very substantial central bank deposits in London”.
The Bank of England is among the largest keepers of gold in the world. Most of it is stored securely on behalf of the Government and banks.