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British judge denies Venezuela’s Maduro access to gold in London vault

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

A British judge Thursday refused to give Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro control of nearly $2 billion in gold stashed in a Bank of England vault, ruling that it would be unlawful as Britain does not recognize him as president of the South American nation.

Maduro has demanded the bullion to help his cash-starved nation fight the coronavirus. But Britain’s central bank has refused to hand it over to Maduro’s socialist administration because London recognizes Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as his country’s legitimate leader.

The ruling clarifies the question of who is Venezuela’s legitimate leader — at least in the eyes of one world power. Besides Britain, the United States and about five dozen other governments also recognize Guaidó's claim to the presidency.

A lawyer representing Maduro’s side promised to appeal Thursday’s ruling. Sarosh Zaiwalla said in a statement that the judgment “entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground” in Venezuela.

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“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. “This outcome will now delay matters further, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people whose lives are at risk.”

Guaidó, who heads Venezuela’s congress, has sought to keep the gold out of the hands of the Maduro government, which Guaidó contends is illegitimate and corrupt.

U.S. prosecutors say Venezuelan leaders took a major stake in the drug trade in hopes of helping rebels in neighboring Colombia.

During a recent four-day hearing, Guaidó's lawyers reiterated their stance that the National Assembly leader became Venezuela’s rightful leader under provisions of the country’s constitution. Guaidó proclaimed himself the interim president in early 2019, months after Maduro declared victory in an election that his critics say was rigged in his favor.

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Banco Central de Venezuela sought to release the gold, which it says it wants to sell for food and medical equipment that is desperately needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. But it had also sought the gold before the pandemic began.

Despite its support for Guaidó, Britain continues to have diplomatic ties with Maduro’s government. The British have not granted diplomatic credentials to the envoy whom Guaidó named ambassador to London.


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