Facing $113 Billion in Potential Damages, Chevron Lawyers Seek Any Opportunity to Delay
Amazon Defense Coalition
29 October 2010 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Bill Hamilton at (202) 641-0350 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lago Agrio, Ecuador – A trial court has sanctioned and fined three Chevron lawyers for obstructing the trial where Chevron faces a multi-billion dollar judgment for the deliberate dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, according to court papers made available today.
Alberto Racines and Diego Larrea, both of whom have worked on Chevron's legal team in Ecuador since the trial against Chevron began in 2003, were fined by Judge Nicolas Zambrano this week for repeatedly filing the same motions in an effort to delay the seven-year Ecuador trial.
The judge ruled that the lawyers had used Chevron's motions "to obstruct the trial." In 2009, a third Chevron lawyer – Patricio Campuzano – was sanctioned for the same reason.
On August 5 – one day after the court ordered both parties to submit their own damages assessments – Chevron filed 19 motions to nullify the order or the trial itself in a 30-minute period. Racines and Larrea then cited the failure of the trial judge to quickly rule on each of the motions as a basis to recuse him.
"The evidence clearly shows Chevron used illegal practices that resulted in the massive destruction of the rainforest in Ecuador and the decimation of indigenous groups and other local residents," said Pablo Fajardo, who represents dozens of indigenous and farmer communities suing the oil giant for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest.
"To help Chevron evade its obligations, Chevron's lawyers are trying to sabotage the Ecuadorian legal system in addition to violating their professional obligations," he added.
Chevron, which operated several oil fields in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990, faces damages and clean-up costs estimated at up to $113 billion. The amount includes compensation for an estimated 10,000 potential deaths from cancer in the coming decades, according to reports submitted by a team of prominent American technical experts. Chevron is also accused of deliberately discharged highly toxic "water of formation" into the waterways of the forest that thousands of local residents depended on for their drinking water. The "water of formation" has a salt content ten times greater than ocean water.
Chevron bought Texaco (which owned the Ecuador operation) in 2001 for $31 billion, apparently without adequately vetting the company for the Ecuador environmental liability, said Fajardo.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. federal court in 1993 but moved to Ecuador in 2002 at Chevron's request, accuses the oil giant of poisoning an area of rainforest the size of Rhode Island that is home to five indigenous groups. More than 900 unlined toxic waste pits built and abandoned by Chevron are spread out through the rainforest where they continue to contaminate groundwater and soils, according to evidence submitted to the court.
Chevron has repeatedly tried to delay the trial by bombarding the court in the Amazon town of Lago Agrio with hundreds of repetitive motions, a practice that has intensified in recent months.
Two Chevron employees currently living in the United States, Ricardo Reis Veiga and Rodrigo Perez Pallares, are under indictment in Ecuador for lying about the results of purported remediation in the mid-1990s. Evidence gathered during the trial shows that toxic waste pits the company claimed to have remediated are contaminated with cancer-causing toxins, sometimes hundreds of times higher than U.S. and Ecuadorian norms designed to protect public health.
Chevron's misconduct in Ecuador and its abuse of the legal process has drawn increasing criticism.
A prominent Ecuador Bishop, Gonzalez Lopez Maranon, blasted the oil giant for failing to accept responsibility for the "pollution and death" Texaco caused in the country. The full text of his letter in English and Spanish, which was sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, can be found here.
Rep. James McGovern, the only member of Congress to have visited the disaster area in Ecuador, previously had written a letter to President Obama saying Chevron's pollution had created "a terrible humanitarian and environmental crisis." Dozens of members of Congress also have protested.
Chevron's attempts to lobby the Obama Administration to cancel Ecuador's trade preferences as retaliation for the lawsuit.
Just last week, Chevron's new $100 million advertising campaign was widely mocked by environmental groups and the Yes Men, who created a website called www.chevronthinkswerestupid.com.