CARACAS (Reuters) – Lawyers for Venezuela’s central bank said on Thursday that they sought to negotiate a deal with opposition leader Juan Guaido to purchase coronavirus vaccines in Britain, but that the opposition rejected the deal.
In a statement, 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 wrote in a statement.
A Guaido representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 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 access over $1 billion worth of Venezuelan gold stored at the Bank of England.
The Maduro-aligned central bank has previously sought to access the funds to help fight coronavirus efforts. 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 some 10 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The South American country has reported some 117,811 coronavirus cases and 1,084 deaths.
Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Writing by Corina Pons and Mayela Armas; Editing by Luc Cohen and Marguerita Choy