A U.K. High Court judge has reserved judgment on whether the Bank of England may hold for safekeeping nearly $2 billion of Venezuelan gold, essentially kicking the can down the road in a long-running legal battle between Venezuelan leaders Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, who represents the Maduro-controlled Central Bank of Venezuela, expects a decision in the case later in July or possibly not until September, following a four-day trial that concluded Monday.
The Venezuelan central bank argues that the gold is needed in the South American country, which has struggled under sanctions and the pandemic. Critics fear the Maduro regime will pocket the proceeds rather than help the Venezuelan people.
Britain recognizes opposition leader 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.
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—although Maduro effectively holds power in the country.
Guaidó has sought to prevent the gold’s release to the Maduro regime, which, he contends, is illegitimate and corrupt.
Attorneys at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer who represent Guaidó declined to comment ahead of the high court decision.
The Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice, which is made up of Maduro supporters, argues that the Central Bank of Venezuela is the only valid custodian of the country’s foreign assets.
“Whether the judgments of a foreign nation’s constitutional court are valid is a matter for that nation, not the courts of England and Wales,” said Zaiwalla. “Seeking to undermine them is a grave infringement on the sovereign rights of a nation to manage its own affairs.”
The case sits before the Hon. Mrs. Justice Sara Cockerill, the judge in charge of the U.K. Commercial Court.
Zaiwalla is founding partner of London-based international arbitration and litigation firm Zaiwalla & Co.
Past clients include the president of India and China National Petroleum Corp., according to the firm’s website, which also says Zaiwalla was asked by the Dalai Lama to facilitate a dialogue with China in an attempt to reach a peaceful resolution for the contested territory of Tibet.