Oil Giant Trying to Block Investigation of Its Own Role in Doctoring Videos and Facilitating Misconduct,
Says Amazon Defense Coalition
Amazon Defense Coalition
15 September 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paul Paz y Miño: +1 510.281.9020 x302, firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco, CA (September 15, 2009) – Chevron has arranged for two prominent criminal defense attorneys in the San Francisco Bay Area to represent the men who secretly videotaped a purported bribery scheme in Ecuador, apparently to block an investigation to determine the company's own role in orchestrating the incident to disrupt a trial where Chevron faces a $27 billion liability, according to news reports and the Amazon Defense Coalition.
The attorneys, Cristina Arguedas and Mary McNamara, are well-known in the San Francisco Bay Area for representing high-profile clients. Arguedes currently represents baseball great Barry Bonds on perjury and obstruction of justice charges, while McNamara represented Victor Conte in the BALCO drug scandal that ensnared Marian Jones and implicated several top U.S. track stars.
Chevron has confirmed that Arguedes represents Diego Borja, a Chevron contractor who the plaintiffs claim tried to bribe an Ecuadorian official as part of an illegal sting operation. McNamara represents Wayne Hansen, described by Chevron as an American businessman who with Borja also shot secret video of a purported bribery scheme where he was trying to secure an environmental clean-up contract should Chevron lose the case.
Chevron has acknowledged that it will consider paying the legal fees for the two men, according to news reports that quote Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson. Chevron had not previously disclosed it had helped Borja and Hansen secure lawyers or pay their legal fees.
On August 31, the day Chevron released the tapes, it claimed in a press release that it had "no relationship" with Hansen and had only helped Borja relocate to the United States.
The latest developments underscore that Chevron has dirty hands in the matter and is trying to make it as difficult as possible for its role in the bribery scheme to be investigated, said Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Amazon communities suing the company in Ecuador, where the oil giant faces a $27.3 billion liability. Chevron posted the secret videos on YouTube on August 31, just weeks before an expected final judgment in the trial, instead of turning them over to authorities. The company first had possession of the tapes in early June.
It is generally accepted in the legal profession that a corporation will pay the fees of a criminal defense lawyer to represent an individual who has information that could implicate the company in wrongdoing, with the hope that the person will be discouraged from testifying against the company, said Hinton.
"The fact that Chevron secured the services of these prominent attorneys raises a serious question about whether it is doing so pursuant to some agreement it had with Borja and Hansen," said Hinton. "Since Chevron had vigorously denied any relationship with either of these men, it should explain why it appears to be paying these very expensive criminal defense lawyers to represent them."
"The key question that needs to be investigated by U.S. authorities is whether Borja and Hansen acted on behalf of Chevron to contrive evidence that would disrupt and delay a trial, so the company could avoid paying a liability," Hinton added. "If that's the case, Chevron would have an interest in shielding them from investigators. What better way to do that than to make sure they have lawyers paid for by Chevron?"
Chevron is accused in the lawsuit – which is being held in Ecuador at the company's request – of dumping billions of gallons of waste into Amazon waterways when Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) operated an oil concession from 1964 to 1990. A court-appointed Special Master found that 100% of Chevron's former well sites in Ecuador are highly contaminated with cancer-causing toxins. The Special Master also found that Chevron's own evidence proves the case against the company.
The YouTube videos show Hansen and Borja discussing a $3 million bribe with an Ecuadorian man, Patricio Garcia, who claimed he was connected to Ecuador's government. The ostensible purpose of the bribe was for Hansen to secure a contract to perform environmental remediation should Chevron lose the case, according to the oil company. But Chevron has presented no evidence Garcia was connected to Ecuador's government, although he appears to have been a former low-level official of the governing party.
"Offering a bribe to Garcia to influence Ecuador's government is like trying to influence the White House by offering a bribe to a maintenance worker at the Democratic National Committee," said Hinton. "There is no logic to it unless it was part of a script contrived by Chevron."
Chevron has produced no independent evidence to confirm the men were actually trying to bribe the official, as opposed to stage-managing a meeting to create "evidence" Chevron could use to blemish the trial. More suspicious is that there appears to be no logical reason to discuss a remediation contract given that the appeals process will delay a final judgment for years, and that no determination has been made that the judge would have any role in awarding or approving remediation contracts, said Andrew Woods, an American lawyer who advises the plaintiffs.
Several sources, including trial judge Juan Nunez, have charged Chevron with doctoring the tapes by splicing them together. Though Chevron has said both Borja and Hansen were taping, the company has released only one video. The evidence that Judge Nunez said he would rule against Chevron appears fabricated, as the judge is off camera at the time and on 13 other occasions had told Borja and Hansen that he had not decided how he would rule.
Hinton pointed out that Chevron thus far has refused to release the full tapes, allowed access to the person who edited them, revealed the name of a forensics expert who examined the tapes, or clarified the role of its own lawyers in scripting the meetings that were taped. It also has provided no information on Hansen's relationship to the company or his work history, or specified how much it has paid Borja to come to the U.S. And now, the two key witnesses – Borja and Hansen – are unavailable for questioning because Chevron has arranged for them to have criminal defense lawyers, said Hinton.
"This looks more and more like a scheme planned down to the last detail at the highest levels of Chevron's headquarters in the U.S.," said Hinton. "It is clear that the only possible way to get to the truth of what happened is through an investigation from U.S. authorities that includes questioning of Chevron's own lawyers."
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, was quoted by Bloomberg on September 9 as saying that Borja and Hansen could face penalties for secretly recording the meetings.
In relation to McNamara's representation of Hansen, Levinson told Bloomberg: "Either Chevron has turned into the biggest Good Samaritan out there or they have allied interests with this man ... The ball is in Chevron's court to give a better explanation of whether they'll pay his legal costs out of the goodness of their heart or as part of a contractual arrangement."
On her website, Arguedas says she has represented "dozens of high-profile clients – many of whom prefer to remain anonymous – charged with public corruption, securities fraud, intellectual-property theft, environmental offenses, sex crimes, drug manufacturing and trafficking, and murder, as well as hundreds of lesser-known individuals accused of far less serious crimes." McNamara is described on her firm's website as a "Northern California Super Lawyer".