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Arnold & Porter Lands UK Supreme Court Victory for Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó in Dispute over Venezuelan Central Bank Reserves

December 20, 2021

London, England, 20 December 2021 – The UK Supreme Court ruled today that the UK Government has recognized Juan Guaidó as Interim President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, opening the door for Arnold & Porter's client, the Guaidó appointed Board of the Central Bank of Venezuela, to control Venezuelan Central Bank reserves held in the UK.

Arnold & Porter partner Whitney Debevoise commented that the decision is a blow for Nicolás Maduro whom the Supreme Court found is "not recognised for any purpose."

The case concerns the right to control gold valued at approximately £2.0 billion and the proceeds of a gold swap. The case will now return to the Commercial Court to determine whether the UK Courts should recognise certain judgments of Venezuela's highest court declaring the appointment of Guaidó's representatives to the Board of the Central Bank of Venezuela null and void.

Arnold & Porter London litigation partner Jane Wessel said, "We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate that the Venezuelan decisions relied upon by the Maduro side deserve no recognition by an English court as they are not the decisions of an independent judiciary respecting the rule of law."

The case made new law in the area of Act of State, a rule of UK law that courts in the UK will not adjudicate on the lawfulness or validity of an executive act of a foreign state under its own law if that executive act is performed within the territory of that state. The Court determined that this rule applies to President Guaidó's acts of appointment to the Board of the Central Bank, subject only to a determination concerning the recognition in the UK in accordance with domestic rules of private international law and the public policy of the forum of foreign court decisions. UK public policy denies recognition for foreign judicial decisions that do not respect the rule of law.

The case was tried on the preliminary issues of recognition and Act of State. Following an expedited trial in late June 2020, the Commercial Court handed down judgment in favour of Interim President Guaidó on both issues. The Commercial Court agreed with the Guaidó Board's position in its judgment on 2 July 2020.  The Court of Appeal remanded the case for further findings of fact on 5 October 2020.  The Supreme Court granted permission to appeal on 9 December 2020. 

A three-day hearing took place commencing on 19 July 2021. On 20 December 2021, the Supreme Court handed down its unanimous judgment holding that the Court of Appeal had erred in finding any ambiguity in the statements of recognition of Interim President Guaidó issued by Her Majesty';s Government. The Supreme Court concluded that Her Majesty's Government has recognised Guaidó as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela since 4 February 2019 and that it continues to do so, and does not recognise Maduro as President of Venezuela for any purpose.

Arnold & Porter has a long tradition in high-profile, large-stake legal matters involving international relations. Debevoise participated in the struggle between President Arturo Delvalle of Panama and General Manuel Noriega over control of Panama's assets in similar circumstances in 1989.  In 2019, Debevoise and an Arnold & Porter team represented Interim President Guaidó and the ad hoc Board of Petróleos de Venezuela with respect to the change of board representatives and officers at Citgo Petroleum Corporation, actions that Guaidó's representatives successfully defended in the courts of Delaware.

In addition to Debevoise and Wessel, the Arnold & Porter team includes London senior associate Alastair Brown. Arnold & Porter instructed Tim Otty, QC, of Blackstone Chambers, Andrew Fulton, QC, Mark Tushingham and Sir Daniel Bethlehem, QC, of Twenty Essex.