Exclusive: ”Trial in London Could Leave Maduro Without Control of Foreign Assets”

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“It would be unprecedented for Maduro to have all the national assets around the world taken away in one stroke:” Vanessa Neumann. (Courtesy @vanessaneumann)

Spanish – The lawsuit between the interim government of Juan Guaidó and the regime of Nicolás Maduro, to decide which authority will have control over the Venezuelan gold reserves kept in the vaults of the Bank of England, culminated in London.

It was a quick trial that began on Monday, June 22, and ended on Thursday, June 25. Now, we are awaiting the verdict of the UK court.

If the judge rules in favor of Juan Guaidó’s government, it could leave Maduro without control of national assets abroad.

The Commercial Court of the High Court Justice, London examined the case in the framework of a complaint by the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) against the Bank of England (BoE) to recover more than 30 tons of gold, valued at one billion dollars. At the end of the hearings, Judge Nigel Teare promised to announce his decision “as soon as possible” without further details.

This is a historic trial. Never before in the world has a court trial been held where it is necessary to define who is to be given legitimacy, especially when it is a question of a dictatorial regime and a legitimate government, operating simultaneously in the same country.

Although the United Kingdom government recognizes Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, it was the Bank of England that requested clarification regarding who should be granted control of the assets.

The Maduro regime hired the law firm Zaiwalla to take control of the gold reserves. Zaiwalla has already participated in trials in defense of Iranian and Russian agencies. Legal defenders who have expertise in protecting tyrannies and illegitimate regimes.

The law firm’s website states: “Pioneer in the law to successfully challenge international sanctions imposed on other countries.”

Meanwhile, the interim government is represented by the renowned law firm Arnold & Porter. Its legal defense services are paid for using funds unfrozen in the United States and approved by the National Assembly and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Maduro’s regime has claimed that it needs to take control of the money blocked for allegedly being transferred directly to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the purchase of drugs and medical supplies. But the UNDP only confirmed that Caracas made the proposal and that the agency is willing to ‘explore’ it in the framework of an eventual agreement between the BCV and the BoE.

To learn more about the case that could release millions of dollars in favor of the interim government and could also create a precedent for blocking all the funds that the Maduro regime controls abroad, PanAm Post interviewed Dr. Vanessa Neumann, ambassador of the interim government to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“If the ruling goes against Maduro, which is what we expect to happen when that decision comes out, I imagine that Maduro will be unhappy and will seek to break off relations with the UK. There is no certainty that it will happen, but it is a strong probability,” Neumann said.

“Already the regime has blamed the British government for the coronavirus deaths due to the blocked money, the regime has not understood that the Bank of England is independent, as is the justice system,” she added.

How are we in this situation where the legitimacy of two authorities is disputed in the courts of England?

The irony of this trial is that it was driven by Maduro, we would never have gotten to this point if he didn’t sue the Bank of England.

There are some disputed goods. And in that dispute, the issue of legitimacy and to whom they should be handed over had already been touched upon. So the issue of legal recognition was somewhat in play, but very slowly. Then Maduro lost his patience because the game didn’t go as planned. He threw out his lawyers and hired a more aggressive firm working for Iran. They have worked for Rosneft, too.

When Maduro lost patience, he hired this firm and decided to sue the Bank of England. That was a very aggressive move that sought to get the Guaidó interim government out of the game. But it backfired because the Bank of England said it did not recognize the authority of the regime to sue and so we decided to participate in an expedited trial.

We had a hearing that was on May 28, and the first issue on which we beat the regime was that they did not exclude us. Two issues were defined at that hearing: one is recognition and the doctrine of one voice whereby the foreign ministry and a court cannot recognize two different people.

In other words, if the Foreign Ministry recognizes Guaidó, then it basically has to provide guidelines, but there has to be a legal decision.

The other point has to do with legal sovereignty and the parameters of what can be judged.

The regime wanted to introduce the declarations of the illegitimate, Maduro Supreme Court as evidence in its favor to declare that Guaidó is not legitimate, but then our argument was much simpler: “a British court cannot interfere with Venezuelan domestic laws.” If you accept Guaidó, you accept the authorities appointed by him.

The judge apparently expressed concern at one point that the regime’s lawyers were not respecting the established parameters.

Ultimately, the judge asked some questions for clarification and said he would give his written verdict as soon as possible. He did not give a date, but we estimate that it would be at the end of July, and based on the questions, in the end, it seems that he already has a fairly advanced position.

The questions sometimes indicate where things are going. We are hopeful; it seems positive to us.

It’s like going to the Olympics: you do the best performance you can, but you rely on the verdict of the judges.

So, will this trial define who would have the legitimacy to take control of the confiscated assets?

Correct, the decision will define with which authority the Bank of England will work, Maduro’s BCV or Guaidó’s BCV, and give authority to dispose of the assets.

Now, what are we gonna do with the money? Something very technical comes into play now. If the judge decides that we are the ones to be recognized, we enter a fully bureaucratic process; paperwork.

We are talking about quite a lot of money. The quantity of gold ingots is now valued at 1.8 billion dollars. We also estimate that depending on the verdict, other accounts with more money will be impacted by the decision.

The case becomes paradigmatic. If the Bank of England recognizes us, the other Central Banks should also recognize us. This is historical; there are no precedents, so logic would dictate that. But when it comes to politics and money, things are always complicated.

I have seen Maduro’s argument documents, and he argued that if they lose this, they lose control of all national assets internationally. It would be unprecedented to take away all national assets around the world in one stroke.

A sentence in our favor would also help us a lot on another issue, stolen goods, a kleptocracy. Based on this recognition, we could ask for accounts and financial ledgers related to the theft from the nation to be opened. Without legal recognition, it would be very complicated.

Given my experience in these matters, I have the impression that with this decision, I won’t have to go to courts after courts such as Andorra, Switzerland, or the Netherlands to recover these assets.

The money would never pass through my hands. It belongs to the nation and would be handled by Ricardo Villasmil, the president of the Central Bank of the ad hoc board of the interim government. He would be the one with authority.

But I imagine that the regime would try to appeal and go to other courts to apply the same judgments…

Yes, of course, they would surely want to appeal. We have learned that the regime is ruthless. It does not stop.

But we have a great advantage that we are not criminals. In the event that the judge rules in Maduro’s favor, the Bank of England has a second option by claiming that it is a bank and cannot transfer money to people connected with crimes, human rights abuses, or financing to Iran.

The bank knows or should know that Maduro is a criminal who finances terrorism, so it could refuse to release the money. The banks have an anti-money laundering system that would allow them not to give the money to the regime.

If the judge grants Maduro legitimacy, are you willing to appeal?

Yes, that’s most likely because we have the statements from the Foreign Office that recognize us.

Did the regime argue that it would use the money to address the coronavirus pandemic?

They tried to make it seem like they urgently needed that money to address the humanitarian crisis, but that’s propaganda because it didn’t even come up in court. The use of that money was not even mentioned. Besides, UNDP doesn’t even have the mandate to provide humanitarian aid.

But Maduro wants access to all the blocked assets worldwide, and that is why he wants to snatch the parliamentary elections. Because without the approval of the National Assembly, he cannot have control of any money.

There is a known agreement between the governments of Maduro and Guaidó to seek funds to address the coronavirus pandemic. Would the money be used for that if it were unblocked?

I see nothing in Maduro’s behavior to indicate that the money would go to humanitarian aid. He has stolen so much money that he could solve that problem with everything he has stolen.

If the judge rules in our favor, I still see it as very difficult for that money to go to that for several reasons.

There are theoretical, ideological, and technical reasons. First, gold is a national reserve, not a current account to be used for a temporary crisis. Maybe it’s too much money to be used for that. Proportionally, the numbers don’t add up.

Secondly, the interim government is exactly that: interim. The allocation of international reserves is the responsibility of whoever has won a free and fair election. It is possible that technically the reserve will remain there until Venezuela has its next legitimate president.

And the technical issue is that there is paperwork involved, which will take several months to come through. I think it’s complicated to use it for humanitarian aid. Besides, so much humanitarian aid has been sent already, and there is a lot of money allocated by the international community. So there is no need to mess with our national reserves.

What we have asked is that this National Emergency Government is allowed access to the goods. The idea is that there should be a deep and political agreement where Maduro leaves.

This post was originally posted on PanAm Post – View Original Article

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Have lived and invested in Venezuela full time for the last eight years and visited for each of twelve years prior to that. Studied and closely followed developments in Venezuela since 1996.