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English court to weigh recognition of Maduro, Guaido in Venezuela gold case

CARACAS/LONDON (Reuters) - An English court on Thursday said it would need to decide which of Venezuela’s dueling political factions to recognize before ruling on President Nicolas Maduro’s request for the Bank of England to hand over gold the country has in its vaults.

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Venezuela for decades stored gold that makes up part of its central bank reserves in the vaults of foreign financial institutions including the Bank of England, which provides gold custodian services to developing countries. The bank since 2018 has refused to transfer the funds to Maduro’s government, which Britain does not recognize.

Earlier this month, Venezuela’s central bank made a legal claim to try to force the bank to release 930 million euros ($1.03 billion) in gold to fund Venezuela’s coronavirus response. The government says it has a deal with the UN Development Programme to administer the funds.

But according to statements from both parties, the court said it would begin hearings no earlier than June 22 to determine which party could represent Venezuela in the case: Maduro or Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Dozens of countries, including Great Britain, recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, arguing Maduro rigged his 2018 re-election. Guaido has appointed a parallel central bank board of directors.

Maduro, who retains the support of Venezuela’s armed forces and allies Russia and China, calls Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup.

Lawyers at Zaiwalla & Co, which represent the central bank of Maduro’s government in the case, called the result “a fair and good outcome.”

Guaido’s chief overseas legal representative confirmed the contents of the ruling and said “the Maduro regime’s true aim is to use central bank resources outside of parliamentary controls.”

The Bank of England declined to comment.

($1 = 0.9019 euros)

Reporting by Mayela Armas in Caracas and Karin Strohecker in London; Additional reporting by William Schomberg in London; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Marguerita Choy