The fight over who is the rightful president of Venezuela has spilled over into a U.S. courtroom, as two Big Law firms vie to represent the Venezuelan government.
Arnold & Porter ceased representing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and began representing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido after the United States recognized Guaido as the leader of Venezuela. After Arnold & Porter switched sides, Venable stepped in and began representing Maduro.
The two firms are now quarreling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as each claims they represent the rightful head of Venezuela. Arnold & Porter and Venable did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Feb. 12, Arnold & Porter attorneys asked for a stay in a case regarding a demand by a Canadian gold producer for compensation tied to Venezuela’s expropriation of its property.
“A stay is necessary to allow the newly installed government of Juan Guaido, interim president of the Republic, sufficient time to evaluate its position in this and other cases involving the Republic currently pending in U.S. courts,” the firm said in the court filing.
The motion was granted on Feb. 14.
On Feb. 22, Venable filed a response to the motion for a stay on behalf of Venezuela’s attorney general, Reinaldo Munoz Pedroza. In the court filings submitted by Venable attorneys Moxila Upadhyaya and Michael MacWilliams, the firm disputed Arnold & Porter’s assertion that it is the rightful legal representative of Venezuela.
“[W]hile the Republic does not oppose the stay that has been granted, it strenuously objects to Arnold & Porter’s position that the Republic has no right to participate in these proceedings by virtue of President Trump’s official statement,” Venable said in the court filing.
The firm also added that “[w]hile there is well-established law about whether an unrecognized state is entitled to certain privileges and immunities, it has never been suggested that an unrecognized state may not defend itself when hauled into court.”
Arnold & Porter has long represented Venezuelan leaders, dating back to 1984, according to U.S. Department of Justice filings under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The firm jumped to Guaido after U.S. President Donald Trump and 50 countries recognized Guiadó as the de facto leader of Venezuela.
Venable has represented a variety of interests in Hong Kong, Venezuela and Malaysia since at least 2009, according to FARA filings.