Oil Giant Reaches Into Bag of Dirty Tricks to Delay End of 17-year Litigation
Amazon Defense Coalition
16 November 2010 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Lago Agrio, Ecuador – A trial judge in Ecuador has increased the penalty for two Chevron lawyers found to be obstructing the trial where the oil giant 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 approximately $1,600 by Judge Nicolas Zambrano for repeatedly filing the same motions in an effort to delay the seven-year Ecuador trial.
Zembrano, adhering to an outdated law that ties the amount of the fine to minimum wage rates in Ecuador, had previously ordered the pair to pay roughly $10 each as a penalty.
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. The judge raised the fine in response to a motion by Chevron to revoke the original order.
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.
Just last week, the pair filed with the court a long affidavit from U.S. technical expert Laura Green that was executed in 2004, one year after the trial began in Ecuador. They then asked the judge to appoint a translator to provide a Spanish copy of the affidavit, a practice allowed under court rules even though Chevron generally provides its own translations.
"Chevron is desperate to delay the trial and it is important that the court make it clear that the company's lawyers get away with these illegal practices," 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. "Unfortunately, the amounts of the fines are simply too small to make a difference."
"It is clear that Chevron's lawyers in Ecuador are under instructions from the company's General Counsel to sabotage the trial to avoid paying damages for the company's reckless destruction of the rainforest," 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, originally 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 have 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 visit 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.
Recently, 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.