CARACAS (Reuters) – Lawyers for Venezuela’s central bank on Thursday said opposition leader Juan Guaido rejected a proposed deal to buy coronavirus vaccines in Britain, an assertion the opposition dismissed as false.
The lawyers said the bank – whose board was named by President Nicolas Maduro – requested the support of an ad-hoc central bank board appointed by Guaido to transfer $120 million in funds frozen in Britain to Gavi, an alliance seeking to improve poor countries’ vaccine access.
“Due to international sanctions the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela have worsened, and President Maduro’s government has been unable to effect payment to Gavi to secure access to COVID-19 vaccines by any other means,” the central bank’s lawyers at Zaiwalla & Co said in a statement.
The opposition argues cutting off Maduro’s access to the funds is justified because he would use the money for corrupt ends, rather than to help Venezuelans suffering a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse.
Guaido is recognized by dozens of countries, including Britain, as Venezuela’s rightful leader after Maduro’s disputed 2018 re-election. The two sides are locked in a London court battle over which side can have access to over $1 billion worth of Venezuelan gold stored at the Bank of England.
“I want to highlight the false nature of the information released by the Maduro regime,” wrote Miguel Pizarro, a representative of Guaido’s interim government. “We reiterate our willingness to find solutions to address the crisis that Venezuelans suffer today.”
A public relations firm representing the central bank’s lawyers on Friday sent a letter that they said was drafted by Guaido’s legal counsel Arnold & Porter that says “our clients cannot consent” to a proposal by Maduro’s government to use the frozen funds to make payments to Covax for the purpose of acquiring vaccines.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the veracity of the letter.
Arnold & Porter did not respond to a request for comment.
Guaido’s interim government, asked for comment on the letter, referred Reuters to Thursday’s statement.
The Maduro-aligned central bank has previously sought to access the funds to help fight the impacts of the coronavirus. The opposition said in early January it had reached a deal to participate in COVAX, one of Gavi’s facilities to provide vaccines, but did not provide details.
Maduro has said Venezuela will shortly receive 10 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The South American country has reported about 117,811 coronavirus cases and 1,084 deaths.
(Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas, Writing by Corina Pons and Mayela Armas, Editing by Marguerita Choy, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)