Series of Legal Setbacks In Ecuador Haunt Company; Charges of Fabricating Evidence
Amazon Defense Coalition
28 August 2007 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito, Ecuador (August 28) PRNewswire - After a stunning series of legal reversals, Chevron is being accused by Amazon indigenous leaders of risking major corporate governance problems by fabricating evidence and engaging in a "campaign of intimidation" in Ecuador to derail a rainforest pollution trial as it nears completion.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs maintain a final judgment in the case - considered one of the largest environmental litigations in history -- could surpass $10 billion, which would eat up the majority of Chevron's booming profits for one year. Thousands of people are considered at risk of contracting cancer, and three indigenous groups report they are on the verge of extinction in areas of the rainforest where Chevron operated.
The evidentiary portion of the 14-year-old trial is expected to end in the coming months, with a decision in 2008.
Amazon leaders charge that Chevron has begun fabricating scientific evidence by taking soil and water samples far away from contamination sources and then using the results to claim its oil production facilities at different locations pose no risk to human health, said Pablo Fajardo the Ecuadorian lawyer for the 30,000 plaintiffs. Fajardo said Chevron management is under enormous pressure to hide its Ecuador liability from shareholders and to create a defense to an inquiry from the Securities and Exchange Commission that Chevron has failed to comply with its disclosure obligations.
"As judgment day nears, Chevron has resorted to these unfortunate tactics to undermine the trial because it knows the weight of the evidence is stacked against it," said Fajardo." Countries around the world where Chevron operates or wishes to invest need to know that this is an oil company willing to violate local laws and tolerate human rights abuses to avoid liability for environmental damage."
The accusations are the latest salvo in the case, which began in New York federal court in 1993 before being moved to Ecuador in 2003 at Chevron's request. Last year, Fajardo and other lawyers suing Chevron were targeted with death threats and a series of office robberies that resulted in urgent action bulletins from Amnesty International and increased international scrutiny of Chevron's human rights record.
Chevron is accused of intentionally dumping 18 billon gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest during the 28 years (1964 to 1992) it operated an oil concession in Ecuador, or 30 times more pure crude that was spilled in Exxon Valdez disaster. Five indigenous groups have seen their cultures decimated, and three of those are on the verge of extinction. The concession spanned 1,700 square miles and contained hundreds of wells and roughly 1,000 open-air waste pits.
Among Chevron's growing legal problems over Ecuador, according to Fajardo:
- Soil and water sampling at Chevron's former production sites in Ecuador show levels of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPHs) and other toxic chemicals at thousands of times higher than maximum amounts tolerated in the U.S. - yet Chevron essentially lies to its shareholders, claiming the results pose no risk to human health. For example, soil samples at the well site Lago 2 show TPHs at more than 300,000 parts per million, while the median U.S. standard is 100 ppm. For an analysis of Chevron's fraudulent science, see materials at www.texacotoxico.com or www.chevrontoxico.com .
- After spending an estimated $40 million in legal fees, Chevron was rebuffed recently by a U.S. federal judge in New York in its attempt to force Ecuador's government to assume its liability in the Ecuador environmental trial.
- In Ecuador itself, the trial judge recently denied thousands of pages of repetitive Chevron motions to delay the start of the final damages phase. Instead, Judge German Yanez imposed a 120-day deadline for an independent expert to produce a damages assessment, which is currently being prepared by a blue ribbon panel of scientists and technical experts.
- Even though Chevron never complained about Yanez since the inception of the trial in Ecuador in 2003, the oil company filed a motion last week to oust him from the case. Fajardo said Chevron's true purpose is to provoke the judge into denying the motion so it can later claim on appeal that the court was biased against the oil company. "The entire basis of the motion is to delay the trial and set up Chevron's appeal," he said.
- In a move that violates the professional obligations of the legal profession, Chevron's lawyers have run advertisements in Ecuadorian newspapers that viciously attack Richard Cabrera, the highly-respected Ecuadorian scientist who is conducting the damages calculation. Notably, Chevron never objected to Cabrera's earlier involvement as a court-appointed expert in the case. Only when Judge Yanez ordered the damages assessment did Chevron claim Cabrera was not "qualified" - a euphemism for any technical expert who refuses to bow to Chevron's pressure, said Fajardo.
- Chevron continually tries to interfere with the court-ordered scientific work. While Cabrera collects soil samples at Chevron well sites, a roving band of Chevron employees (roughly 25 lawyers, technical advisors, public relations personnel, professional cameramen, and security guards) stalks him from point to point. The group became so aggressive that the court ordered police tape to be put around each contaminated site to keep Chevron personnel from interfering.
- Chevron recently appointed a Karl Rove disciple and former lobbyist for the chemical industry, Ralph Marquez, to "monitor" Cabrera's work in Ecuador. When Marquez was the chief environmental official in Texas under George W. Bush, the state ranked last in the U.S. in air quality and Marquez tried to weaken the very environmental laws he was supposed to enforce.
- Chevron's Ecuadorian legal team has committed several blunders that haunt the company. More than 98% of the water samples from both sides show levels of toxicity that violate legal norms for both Ecuador and the U.S. Chevron is essentially proving the case of the plaintiffs. "We could meet our burden of proof based exclusively on Chevron's own evidence, which is why the company is starting to fabricate evidence," said Fajardo.
- Chevron is fabricating evidence primarily in two ways. First, Chevron scientists lift soil and water samples at points a significant distance from contaminated production sites (such as the top of a nearby hill or upstream) and then claim they came from the site itself. Second, Chevron refuses to test for certain toxins and then uses their purported "absence" from the test results to claim there are no such toxins in the environment.
"Chevron's trial strategy is to pay for third-rate academics to produce junk science and to use it for public relations purposes," said Steven Donziger, an America legal advisor to the plaintiffs. "It is the same junk science that denies global warming or claims cigarettes have no link to cancer. Eventually, that approach catches up with you as is happening now in Ecuador."