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Recognition of Guaido would be illegal, court told

THE government’s recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state would be illegal under international law, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers representing the board of Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV), appointed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, said such a “premature” step to recognise the opposition figure would be “an impermissible intervention in the affairs of Venezuela.”

The claim was made during a legal battle over the fate of about $1 billion (£800 million) in gold bullion, held in the vaults of the Bank of England (BoE) on behalf of the BCV, which the Maduro leadership says it wants to sell to help tackle the country’s coronavirus crisis.

But Mr Guaido, self-proclaimed “interim president,” who is recognised by the US and over 50 other nations, has appointed his own “ad hoc” board of the BCV and personally asked former BoE governor Mark Carney not to “act on instructions from the Maduro board.”

At a hearing this week, the High Court is being asked to decide who the British government formally recognises as the president of Venezuela — and who controls a reported $5bn (£4bn) that is frozen in foreign bank accounts around the world.

Mr Maduro was sworn in for a second term last year amid claims of vote-rigging in the 2018 election, which was boycotted by opposition parties.

Mr Guaido declared himself acting president in January 2019 and, a month later, then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain recognised Mr Guaido as “the constitutional interim president of Venezuela until credible presidential elections can be held.”

Mr Guaido’s lawyers say he must therefore be regarded by the High Court “as the president of Venezuela.”

But Nicholas Vineall QC, in his written case for the “Maduro board” of the BCV, said: “The statement [by Mr Hunt] says nothing about the government of Venezuela and cannot properly be read as any form of recognition of a Guaido government.”

He added that without Mr Hunt’s statement, “the Guaido board would have no case at all.”

Andrew Fulton, representing the “Guaido board” of the BCV, argued that the British government “has decided to recognise Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela and has denounced the ‘illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime’.”

The hearing before Mr Justice Teare, which is being conducted remotely via Skype, is due to conclude tomorrow and the court is expected to reserve its judgment.

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