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Government's threat to recognise Guaido as president was an attempt to ‘coerce a foreign head of state,’ Court of Appeal hears

THE British government’s threat to recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as his country’s president was an attempt to “coerce a foreign head of state,” the Court of Appeal heard today.

The allegation was made amid a continuing legal battle over the Bank of England’s refusal to hand over to Caracas $1 billion (£800 million) in Venezuelan gold that is held in the bank’s vaults.

Lawyers for the board of the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV), appointed by elected President Nicolas Maduro, accused the government of recognising the self-proclaimed leader “to achieve regime change in Venezuela.”

Earlier this year, the BCV board took legal action in a bid to win release of the gold, saying that it planned to sell it to help cover the costs of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the Bank of England claimed to be “caught in the middle” between rival claims to the gold from the Maduro-appointed board and an “ad hoc” board picked by Mr Guaido.

In July, the High Court ruled that Britain has “unequivocally recognised” Mr Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, meaning that he has the authority to decide what happens to the gold. 

Today, lawyers representing the Maduro board argued that the High Court had wrongly failed to consider whether the government also recognised Mr Maduro as “de facto” president.

Nicholas Vineall QC told the court: “In Venezuela, there has been the threat, followed by the use, of a statement of recognition in order to coerce, we say, a foreign head of state and head of government, of whom Her Majesty’s government disapproves, to act in a particular way.

“Her Majesty’s government was using a statement of recognition with the precise object of influencing particular events in a foreign, sovereign nation state, it is crystal clear.”

Mr Vineall added that Mr Maduro had in effect been told to “either resign your position and hold elections or we will recognise your political opponent,” which he said demonstrated that recognition was “being used as a lever of policy.”

Guaido board representative Andrew Fulton dismissed the arguments as “outlandish,” adding that the British government has “repeatedly condemned” the Maduro government “not merely as illegitimate but as ‘kleptocratic’.”

The hearing is expected to conclude tomorrow, but it is likely that the court will reserve its decision to a later date.

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