Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer has notched another win for the opposition government of Venezuela in the long-running legal battle over nearly $2 billion of the South American country’s gold currently under custody of the Bank of England.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has sought to prevent the gold’s release to the regime of Nicolás Maduro, which, he contends, is illegitimate and corrupt.
Britain recognizes Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, saying he alone has the authority to act as head of state and to decide how to use the country’s 31 tons of gold held in England.
In a judgment siding with the Guaidó team released Friday, the Hon. Mrs. Justice Sara Cockerill acknowledged that her opinion represents “one step in a long and complex legal chain.”
Cockerill said that judicial efforts in Venezuela to nullify government appointments by Guaidó do not stand in the U.K. because Her Majesty’s Government recognizes Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
“The backdrop to this issue is the ‘one voice’ doctrine,” wrote Cockerill.
That doctrine, as summarized by the U.K. Supreme Court, states that in the U.K. “the executive and the judiciary must speak with one voice on issues relating to the recognition of foreign states, governments and heads of state.”
Guaidó was the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly when the country’s last elections were held in 2018. Those elections, he says, were rigged.
Under provisions of the Venezuelan Constitution, Guaidó says that he, as head of the legislature, should be the country’s interim president until free elections can be held. And he wants the Bank of England to keep his country’s gold reserves safe from potential misuse.
The Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice, though, has attempted to thwart Guaidó’s efforts to form an alternative government by, for instance, invalidating his appointments of a Special Attorney General and members of an ad hoc Board of the Central Bank of Venezuela.
Attorneys for Guaidó argued in the U.K. court that the Venezuelan High Court suffers from a systemic lack of independence, as it is stacked with Maduro supporters. Sarosh Zaiwalla, who represents the Maduro-controlled Central Bank of Venezuela, said the bank will “continue to pursue this case in the court to ensure that Venezuelan sovereign assets are preserved and safeguarded for the benefit of the people of Venezuela.”
“The [Central Bank of Venezuela] remains concerned that the cumulative effect of the judgments of the English Court appears to accord a simple statement by the U.K. government recognizing as a head of state a person with no effective control or power over any part of that state, the power to dispossess a foreign central bank of control over assets held in the U.K.,” Zaiwalla said in a statement to Law.com International.
Attorneys at Arnold & Porter declined to comment.