Supreme Court to hear €1.6bn Venezuelan gold case next week

July 16 2021

Next week, from Monday 19th through to Wednesday 21st, the UK Supreme Court will hear an important appeal arising from the ongoing case regarding €1.6bn of Venezuelan gold deposited with the Bank of England. Thursday the 22nd is being held in reserve, should it be required. The Banco Central de Venezuela (“BCV”), represented by London litigation boutique Zaiwalla & Co., sued the Bank of England in May 2020 when it refused to act on BCV’s instructions to transfer €1bn of gold to the United Nations Development Programme to assist in securing humanitarian aid, medicine and equipment necessary for Venezuela’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The BCV’s statement of case may be found here, and their supplemental statement of case here.

The appeal is between the Board of the BCV and the so-called “Ad Hoc Administrative Board” appointed by Juan Guaidó under measures ruled illegal by Venezuela’s highest constitutional court. The so-called Ad Hoc Administrative Board challenges the authority of the BCV’s Board to deal with BCV’s overseas assets and, after a loss in the Court of Appeal, is seeking to overturn a judgment that found that both the incumbent President Maduro and Mr Guaidó could be recognised by the UK Government in different capacities. For further details on the legal aspects of the case, please see a briefing note here.

After 12 months, the case is still discussing preliminary issues relating to authority. In the meantime, lives continue to be lost in Venezuela while other European banks honour the BCV board’s instructions and process Venezuelan payments intended for medical supplies, including Covid-19 vaccines. International sanctions against the country explicitly allow such payments to protect human life, and the continued delays are having a real human cost.

The Foreign Secretary was invited to intervene in the proceedings when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and permission has been granted for legal representatives of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to present legal arguments regarding the case at the hearing. They seek to argue that the Foreign Secretary's statement recognised Mr Guaidó as the Head of State of Venezuela for all purposes for which a head of state can act, irrespective of whether or not Mr Guaidó in fact exercises any power or control within Venezuela.  The Foreign Secretary also claims that the considerable continued diplomatic engagement between the United Kingdom’s embassy and various agencies of President Maduro’s Government does not mean that the UK Government recognises President Maduro.  The Maduro Board argues that the appointment of ambassadors to other states is a key part of the role of a head of state, and it is significant that the UK Government declined to accredit Mr Guaidó’s purported diplomatic appointee to the UK, instead maintaining the accreditation of President Maduro’s ambassador in London.

Leigh Crestohl, Partner at Zaiwalla & Co, acting for the Banco Central de Venezuela, commented:

“International observers to this case may be surprised by the possibility that a unilateral statement of political recognition by the UK Government can dispossess a foreign sovereign of assets deposited in London without any recourse in the English court. This is all the more so where that recognition ignores the reality on the ground. The outcome of this case may well impact upon the attractiveness of the City of London and the Bank of England as a safe location for foreign sovereign assets.

“The legal arguments made by Mr Guaidó’s representatives, intended to undermine and paralyse the BCV’s authority to deal with its assets in London, has achieved little beyond delaying funds being sent directly to the United Nations Development Programme to implement its Covid-19 Humanitarian Response Plan. The Covid-19 pandemic remains a serious threat, and very valuable assets which are being needlessly tied up in this litigation are desperately required by the people of Venezuela, who continue to suffer as a result of the international sanctions on the country”

In January 2021, Mr Guaidó ceased his functions as a deputy and President of the National Assembly of Venezuela after not standing in the 2020 elections. He claimed his purported authority as interim President as continuing from his former role, giving him a questionable constitutional standing to continue in this litigation.

Physical attendance at the hearing is restricted to the parties and their legal representatives. Journalists may attend remotely on the livestream provided by the Supreme Court on their website, here: https://www.supremecourt.uk/

 

Notes to Editor:

Contact: James Lynch, Maltin PR, +44 (0)7594 814 822, james@maltinpr.com

The case is Banco Central de Venezuela v The Governor and Company of The Bank of England, claim number CL–2020–000304, Court of Appeal reference A4/2020/1200 & A4/2020/1201, Supreme Court case number UKSC 2020/0195. The Supreme Court case summary may be found here.

The case will be heard by Lord Reed, Lord Hodge, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Hamblen and Lord Leggatt between the 19th and 21st July 2021. The Supreme Court will hear the Appeal from Mr Guaidó’s side, as well as a Cross-Appeal from the BCV’s Board.

Zaiwalla & Co is a specialist international arbitration and litigation law firm based in London. The firm regularly acts for international clients on high-value, politically delicate disputes, including having represented Bank Mellat in its successful $4bn damages claim against the UK Treasury for wrongfully imposing sanctions against bank, and advising the Russian Federation in a successful appeal at The Hague against $50bn arbitration awards in favour of the former owners of Yukos. Zaiwalla & Co has also acted for the China National Petroleum Corporation, former Presidents of India and for Sadruddin Hashwani in Jivraj v Hashwani.

Banco Central de Venezuela is represented by Nicholas Vineall QC, Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, Prof. Dan Sarooshi QC, Brian Dye, Jonathan Miller and Mubarak Waseem, instructed by Zaiwalla & Co.

The interests of Mr Juan Guaidó are represented by Timothy Otty QC

Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, Andrew Fulton QC, and Mark Tushingham, instructed by Arnold & Porter.

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is represented by Sir James Eadie QC, Sir Michael Wood, Jason Pobjoy and Belinda McRae.

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