20 December 2007
QUITO, Ecuador: A court-appointed engineer in charge of determining whether Chevron Corp. caused environmental damage in the Ecuadorean jungle said Wednesday his offices were burglarized and three computers with information about the case were stolen.
Richard Cabrera told The Associated Press his Quito office was broken into before dawn Friday. Two desktop computers, a laptop, two printers and a digital camera were missing after the break-in, he said.
"It may be common criminals," he said. "I don't blame any of the parties in this matter, that we'll leave" to the authorities.
Cabrera is preparing a report for a class-action suit filed against the San Ramon, California-based company by 30,000 jungle settlers and Indians. They are seeking US$6 billion (€4.2 billion) in cleanup costs for the jungle region where Texaco Petroleum Co. spent three decades extracting oil before it merged with Chevron in 2001.
Cabrera said that he plans to hand in his final report on the alleged environmental damage in the last two weeks of January. The burglary "will not be an obstacle to my work," he told the AP. "I'm moving forward."
The suit alleges billions of gallons (liters) of toxic wastewater were dumped in the jungle. Chevron denies the allegations and says Texaco, which ended its operations in 1992, followed Ecuadorean environmental laws in a US$40 million (€20.2 million) cleanup, which the government approved in 1998.
Chevron has said that Cabrera, who was appointed in June, is unqualified and that the company has not received a fair trial in the Andean nation, where President Rafael Correa has openly backed the plaintiffs.
A spokeswoman at Chevron's office in Ecuador said the company had no comment on the burglary. She spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak with journalists.
In November, Cabrera filed a letter with the court saying "my life and the lives of my family, the lives of the technicians and other assistants in the report are in grave danger."
He said he felt "under pressure, watched."
California-based environmental organization Amazon Watch called on Chevron to publicly denounce "this apparent harassment."
"This is a deeply disturbing incident," said Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch's executive director said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.
Police in Quito confirmed the robbery report, but more details were not available. The judge hearing the case, German Yanez, said he was unaware of the robbery.
After wending through U.S. federal courts for a decade, the legal battle shifted in 2003 to a makeshift courtroom in the Ecuadorean village of Lago Agrio. A ruling is expected sometime next year but the appeals process could last up to three years after that.