A British court of appeal overturned a previous decision from the country’s high court on Monday, blocking Venezuela’s socialist regime from accessing $1.8 billion worth of gold.
A commercial court will now be forced to re-examine the issue.
The legal battle began in May when the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) sued the Bank of England after it refused to release the gold to a state-run institution run by Nicolás Maduro’s regime. In its lawsuit, the BCV made the somewhat dubious claim that all funds from the gold would go towards the country’s response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
In July, a high court ruled that the Bank of England’s refusal was legal because of the British government’s recognition of President Juan Guaidó as the country’s head of state, as the constitution of Venezuela mandates, as opposed to Maduro who successfully rigged the 2018 presidential election. Maduro’s last legal term as president ended in January 2019.
An appeals court granted an appeal soon after the ruling. After examining the case on Monday, the appeals court ruled that a commercial court must now re-examine the issue by clarifying with the British Foreign Office if it recognizes Guaidó as president for “all purposes.”
In its ruling, the appeals court stated that a commercial court must determine if “the UK government recognizes Mr. Guaidó as president of Venezuela for all purposes and therefore does not recognize Mr. Maduro as president for any purpose,” and if “HMG [the UK government] recognizes Mr. Guaidó as entitled to be the president of Venezuela and thus entitled to exercise all the powers of the president but also recognizes Mr. Maduro as the person who does in fact exercise some or all of the powers of the president of Venezuela.”
As the prior president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, the lawmaking body appointed Guaidó president in January 2019 following Maduro’s sham “re-election.” Few nations in the Western world recognized the election because Maduro banned the only genuine opposition candidates from running; human rights groups also documented significant irregularities at the polls, including intimidation.
Since his inauguration, the majority of Western democracies, led by the United States, have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s only legitimate president and have therefore granted him control of all their foreign assets and income streams.
The U.K.’s refusal to hand over the gold was agreed to, according to former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, at the request of the White House. Since coming to office in 2017, the Trump administration has led efforts to weaken and ultimately remove the Maduro regime from power and instigate a transition to democracy in the troubled South American country.
Despite repeatedly hinting at the possibility of a military intervention, Trump has so far only imposed a range of economic sanctions against the socialist regime, squeezing its ability to export oil and access foreign assets. Like the U.K., the U.S. has also handed Guaidó control over various foreign assets such as the U.S.-based refiner Citgo. However, such measures have fallen short of their principal aim of removing Maduro from power, with no imminent signs that the regime may be on the brink of collapse.