A judge in London has said the British government had "unequivocally recognised" opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's president, in a battle over gold bullion held at the Bank of England.
Britain has recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's president, the English High Court has ruled, in a case over whether Guaido or Nicolas Maduro should control $1 billion of Venezuela's gold stored in London.
A four-day hearing last week had been the last part of a tug-of-war over the gold and centred on which of the two rival presidents Britain now viewed as Venezuela's legitimate leader.
The case was brought by the Banco Central de Venezuela to release $1 billion of gold reserves to help fund the cash-strapped country's response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Bank of England said it was unable to act on instructions because it was "caught in the middle" of competing claims for the presidency after disputed elections in 2018.
A BCV board appointed by the government of Nicolas Maduro wants the gold released while a rival ad hoc board appointed by Guaido asked for the release to be denied.
High Court judge Nigel Teare handed down a judgment ruling that Britain had formally recognised Guaido as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela, and that due to the "One Voice" and "Act of State" doctrines the court is precluded from investigating the validity of Guaido's acts.
"It (the High Court) has done so on the basis that such recognition is in accordance with the constitution of the Republic of Venezuela and has done so since 4 February 2019."
Teare added that it was impossible to recognise both men as president.
Maduro's side to appeal
Sarosh Zaiwalla, representing the Maduro-appointed BCV, said his clients would apply for an appeal.
They considered the judgement "entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground," Zaiwalla said in a statement.
"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.
He added, "This outcome will now delay matters further, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people, whose lives are at risk."
If the BCV's appeal is granted, the accelerated pace of the case means it could go to the London Court of Appeal in the coming weeks. If that appeal were to prove successful it would then go up the Supreme Court.
Guaido has refused to accept the results of the 2018 elections, calling them flawed, and insists that he is interim president pending a fresh vote.
Some 60 countries have since recognised him as Venezuela's true leader, including the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Maduro and his inner circle.
Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013. He has ruled with an iron first but presided over the economic collapse of the oil-rich country.
Despite its support for Guaido, the UK continues to have diplomatic ties with Maduro’s government. The British have not granted diplomatic credentials to the envoy that Guaido has named ambassador to the UK.