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President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at Miraflores Government Palace on March 12, 2020 in Caracas, Venezuela.

Judge sides with Guaido in US$1 billion Venezuela gold fight

President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at Miraflores Government Palace on March 12, 2020 in Caracas, Venezuela.

A London judge delivered a blow to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s attempt to retrieve US$1 billion of gold in Bank of England vaults, ruling that opposition leader Juan Guaido should be recognised as the country’s interim president.

Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

In deciding the ownership of the gold, the court should accept the UK government’s “unequivocal” recognition of Guaido, Judge Nigel Teare said Thursday. The decision dismisses the attempt by Maduro-appointed executives at Venezuela’s central bank to set aside the comments.

The bank sued the BOE to get the gold that it says is urgently needed in a joint effort with the United Nations Development Fund to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The bullion has been in limbo since US officials successfully lobbied their British counterparts last year to block Maduro from withdrawing the gold.

The UK government last year said it recognises Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president until new, credible elections can be held.

Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly who swore himself in as the leader of Venezuela, center, speaks to members of the media during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro and his administration in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

“Today’s decision recognises the legality of our interim government as we transition into democracy,” Guaido-appointed Attorney General Enrique Sanchez Falcon said in a phone interview. “It also establishes a criteria that will surely impact other ongoing trials.”

Sanchez, who called the judge’s ruling a “triumph,” said the opposition planned to safeguard the gold for the time being, as part of Guaido’s efforts to secure Venezuela’s financial assets abroad.

The Venezuelan bank said it planned to seek permission to appeal. A representative for the Bank of England declined to comment.

The judgment “entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground,” Sarosh Zaiwalla, a lawyer for the bank, said. “This outcome will now delay matters further, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people whose lives are at risk.”