The High Court has handed down two further judgments in a long-running dispute concerning the control of a substantial part of the state of Venezuela’s foreign international reserves.

The Bank of England holds approximately US$2 billion of gold bullion, and UK-based receivers hold a further US$120m, both on behalf of the Central Bank of Venezuela (“BCV”). Two bodies claim to be entitled to give directions on behalf of the BCV regarding those assets: a Board of the BCV appointed by President Maduro and the National Assembly (Venezuela’s legislature) (the “BCV Board”), and an ‘ad hoc’ board appointed by Mr Juan Guaidó, who has been recognised by His Majesty’s Government as the ‘Interim President of Venezuela’ (the “Ad Hoc Board”).  

In December 2021, the Supreme Court handed down a judgment on a preliminary issue in this matter: [2022] 2 W.L.R. 167. Among other things, the Supreme Court held that the Courts of England and Wales were – subject to some exceptions – unable to question the lawfulness or validity of Mr Guaidó’s acts of appointment of the Ad Hoc Board pursuant to the Act of State doctrine. The Supreme Court remitted to the High Court the question of whether certain judgments of the Supreme Judicial Tribunal of Venezuela (its highest Court) recognising the BCV Board should be given effect in this jurisdiction.

On 29 July 2022, following a six day trial in the Commercial Court, Mrs Justice Cockerill ruled that the Supreme Judicial Tribunal judgments were not to be accorded recognition: [2022] EWHC 2040 (Comm).

Following further submissions and a contested consequential hearing, Mrs Justice Cockerill: (i) granted the BCV Board permission to appeal her judgment; and (ii) refused to grant declarations sought by the Ad Hoc Board. Mrs Justice Cockerill agreed with the BCV Board that the only declaration to be granted at this stage should be a narrow one, limited to the matters which had been subject of the 29 July judgment.

Mrs Justice Cockerill noted in her judgment granting permission to appeal [2022] EWHC 2702 (Comm), handed down on 25 October 2022, that:

This is a case which can rightly be called unique. It concerns a claim with a very significant value, even in the context of the Commercial Court. It concerns a significant proportion of the gold reserves of a large foreign state. The first round of issues raised by that dispute have already engaged the Supreme Court. The consideration of the case thus far has been expedited because the consequences of the decision have the potential to affect all the citizens of Venezuela. The issues which I have had to decide are, in their consideration of the operation of a foreign apex court, effectively unprecedented. The public-international backdrop is not static.”

Richard Lissack KC, Daniel Edmonds and Jacob Turner are instructed by Zaiwalla & Co and act for the BCV Board.