The government of Venezuela has letters signed by Queen Elizabeth II to support its claim for more than $1 billion in gold stored in the Bank of England. Calixto Ortega, President of the Central Bank of South America, said the diplomatic correspondence is evidence that the United Kingdom has recognized Nicolas Maduro as President of Venezuela.
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On Thursday, Ortega said in a rare interview that this undermines a ruling issued by a judge in London last month that prevents the Maduro government from seizing control of gold. Ortega added that issuing UK visas to officials in the Maduro administration also strengthens the government’s position.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido is also trying to claim control of gold in the long-running legal dispute, after the United Kingdom recognized him as Venezuela’s president in 2019. Maduro’s government said it would appeal the court’s latest ruling.
“Three letters signed by the Queen constitute an official position,” Ortega said in Paris upon his return to Caracas from London, where he discussed the matter with his lawyer.
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The British Foreign Office did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.
Gold, stored in the vaults of the Bank of England, accounts for about a fifth of Venezuela’s international reserves of $5.2 billion, excluding the Special Drawing Rights with the International Monetary Fund, which the country does not currently have access to.
With more legal wrangling on the horizon, it is likely that neither the Maduro government nor Guaido and their allies will control the assets any time soon.
Ortega showed Bloomberg News two letters that Queen Elizabeth II would sign in June, as Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In the first letter I notified him of a change in the representative of the Caribbean country based in Caracas, while in the second letter I asked Maduro to adopt a new representative.
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In another letter, the Queen wrote to Maduro on behalf of the Saint Lucia government. All three letters are addressed to “His Excellency President Nicolas Maduro Moros, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”.
He said the letters were delivered to Ortega by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry.
Queen Elizabeth is the head of state for several Caribbean nations, which are independent of London and pursue their own foreign policy.
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Ortega’s legal team is expected to make a decision on its new strategy early next week, as it prepares to appeal the decision. Ortega said an attempt to include the letters as new evidence could result in the case being delayed for a longer period.
Maduro’s government sees the court’s decision as having “serious consequences” for other countries with assets in the British financial system. “London’s reputation as the most neutral and reliable place to do business in the world is at stake here,” Ortega said. “They say something in court and in practice they act differently.”
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