Dragging itself through Oily Mud: Chevron in Amazon

 

A judge in a tiny courtroom in the Ecuadorean Amazon ruled Monday that the oil giant Chevron was responsible for polluting remote tracts of Ecuadorean jungle and ordered the company to pay more than $9 billion in damages, one of the largest environmental awards ever.

The award against Chevron “is one of the largest judgments ever imposed for environmental contamination in any court,” said David M. Uhlmann, an expert in environmental law at the University of Michigan. “It falls well short of the $20 billion that BP has agreed to pay to compensate victims of the gulf oil spill but is a landmark decision nonetheless. Whether any portion of the claims will be paid by Chevron is less clear.”

Both sides said they would appeal the ruling…Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, called the ruling a “triumph of justice,” but said it still fell short. “We’re going to appeal because we think that the damages awarded are not enough,” he said in a telephone interview. The plaintiffs were seeking as much as $113 billion, according to a report recently submitted to the court.  A Chevron spokesman, Kent Robertson, called the decision “illegitimate and unenforceable.” He said Chevron would appeal through the Ecuadorean legal system, and would not pay the damages.  “This is the product of fraud,” he said. “It had always been the plan to inflate the damages claim and coordinate with corrupt judges for a smaller judgment.”

The origins of the case go back to the 1970s, when Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron, operated as a partner with the Ecuadorean state oil company. The villagers sued in 1993, claiming that Texaco had left an environmental mess that was causing illnesses. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, before the case was resolved.

Chevron has been playing hardball for at least the last two years. It produced video recordings from watches and pens wired with bugging devices that suggested a bribery scheme surrounded the proceedings and involved a judge hearing the case. The judge was forced to resign, although it was later revealed that an American behind the secret recordings was a convicted drug trafficker…

Last week, Chevron filed a suit against dozens of people involved in the case, charging that they conspired to extort the company for $113 billion by making up evidence and trying to manipulate the Ecuadorean legal system. At the company’s request, an American judge issued a temporary restraining order to block any judgment for at least four weeks. A day later, international arbiters ordered Ecuador to suspend the enforcement of any judgment.

Excerpts from SIMON ROMERO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS, Ecuador Judge Orders Chevron to Pay $9 Billion, NYTimes, Feb. 14, 2011

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