LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s Novo Banco said its lawyers were studying a ruling by a Lisbon court that Venezuela claims unblocks around $1.5 billion in Venezuelan state assets being held by the bank.
Venezuela’s government has decried sanctions imposed by the United States that have led to banks freezing the country’s assets overseas, as well as international support for the opposition, arguing they have “stolen” Venezuelan resources.
Information Minister Freddy Nanez announced on Wednesday the country had won a key court battle, allowing the release of the frozen funds held in Portugal.
In a response to questions from Reuters, Novo Banco said the Lisbon District Court of Justice had ruled in response to the lender’s request to “clarify existing doubts about the legal representation of Venezuelan public entities”.
Asked whether it planned to appeal or transfer the money to Venezuela, it replied that “Novo Banco and its lawyers are analysing the practical effects of the ruling”, without providing further details. It said any transfer of the funds, which are held in an escrow account, would not affect the bank’s capital ratios.
In November, Nicolas Maduro’s ruling Socialists and the opposition reached an agreement to create a fund using the frozen money to back health, education and other services. The $1.5 billion tied up in the Novo Banco account was meant to kick off the fund.
Novo Banco is 75% owned by U.S. private equity fund Lone Star.
The Lisbon court has not replied to a Reuters request for comment nor would it provide a copy of the ruling.
Since taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden has eased some sanctions on Venezuela – many imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump in a “maximum pressure” campaign – to encourage dialogue. But negotiations have stalled again.
The United States says it will ease sanctions on the OPEC nation only in return for concrete steps toward free elections there.