By Braden Reddall, Reuters
29 October 2009
San Francisco – A lawsuit against Chevron Corp. over pollution of Ecuador's jungle in the 1990s took another bizarre turn when the plaintiffs released a report saying a man who helped force the removal of an Ecuadorean judge from the $27 billion case is a convicted drug smuggler.
The plaintiff-commissioned report was released on Thursday to the media by email.
"This report raises serious questions about Chevron's credibility with this so-called bribery scandal," Steven Donziger, a U.S. lawyer advising the Ecuadoreans in the pollution case told reporters on a conference call.
The local plaintiffs in the 16-year-old environmental damage case have said that Texaco, bought by Chevron Corp in 2001, dumped billions of gallons of polluted water in the jungle around where they live for more than two decades before leaving Ecuador in the early 1990s.
Judge Juan Nunez removed himself from the case after Chevron accused him of being involved in a $3 million bribery scheme for environmental remediation contracts. The judge, who did not admit any wrongdoing, said he removed himself from the case so it could proceed.
Ecuador's government launched an investigation into the alleged bribery scheme after Chevron offered as evidence secretly taped video shot with cameras that had been hidden in a watch and pen. Chevron posted the video on YouTube.
The report released by the Amazon Defense Coalition plaintiffs group claimed that one of the men who shot the footage, Wayne Hansen, is a convicted felon with no apparent experience in the remediation business.
Diego Borja, an Ecuadorean logistics contractor who had once worked for Chevron, also shot some footage.
Chevron said neither man was paid, though the San Ramon, California-based company has said it assisted Borja with the costs of relocating out of Ecuador and other support because he and the company feared for his safety and the safety of his family.
Chevron has said it is paying for legal representation for Borja and Hansen.
Donziger called on the U.S. Justice Department to ensure Ecuadorean investigators can get all the facts.
"Unless the DOJ devotes resources to investigate the role of Chevron in making this happen, I doubt we're going to get to the bottom of this," Donziger said.
Chevron spokesman Justin Higgs declined by email to comment specifically on the report.
"The content on the video and transcripts that we turned over to the (Ecuador) Prosecutor General and U.S. Department of Justice shows inappropriate meetings held by the judge (who was at the time overseeing the case), government interference in the case and a bribe plot involving $3 million," Higgs wrote.
He recommended any questions for Hansen go to his lawyer. But San Francisco lawyer Mary McNamara said on Thursday she was no longer representing Hansen, and could not comment further.
The report claimed to have found in public records that Hansen pleaded guilty in U.S. court to conspiring to import 275,000 pounds (125,000 kg) of marijuana from Colombia in 1986.
Hansen, sentenced to 32 months in federal prison, was released after little more than a year and a half, according to the report by San Francisco-area investigator Grant Fine.