By Rick Kearns, Indian Country Today
24 October 2012
Indigenous and rural plaintiffs from Lago Agrio, Ecuador have won two battles recently in their efforts to sue the U.S. based oil company Chevron: one in Ecuador and the other in the United States.
First, on October 15th, an Ecuadorean court ruled that the plaintiffs could seize $200 million worth of assets belonging to Chevron in Ecuador as part of the $18.2 billion penalty assessed against the U.S. based company for severe pollution and other related damages.
The seized assets include $96.3 million that Ecuador's government owes Chevron, money in Chevron's Ecuadorean bank accounts, and licensing fees generated by the use of the company's trademarks in the country.
The Ecuadorean tribunal determined that "the execution of this sentence is taxable on the totality of the patrimony of Chevron up to fulfilling the totality of the imposed obligation." The court statement also asserted that the sanction occurred because the company had not complied with the prior Ecuadorean sentence.
"This is a huge first step for the rainforest villagers on the road to collecting the entire $19 billion judgment," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Pablo Fajardo, a day after the order was issued.
Chevron spokesperson James Craig countered that this recent judgment is consistent with the company's allegations of fraud against the plaintiff's legal team.
"Today's order is not surprising, since the plaintiffs have shown they are able to get any order they wish granted by the Lago Agrio court. In the past the plaintiffs' lawyers have been involved in ghost-writing orders for the court," Craig said.
One week earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal made by Chevron, allowing the Ecuadorian indigenous plaintiffs the right to collect on the previous $18.2 billion judgment made against the oil company.
On Tuesday, October 9th the Court announced it would not consider Chevron's appeal to overturn a lower court's ruling made in January. In that earlier decision the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction that had blocked the original decision by the Ecuadorian Court.
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any explanation for the decision. However, advocates for both sides released comments shortly after the announcement.
"With this recent struggle we cannot be victorious until justice is done and that society may know about the atrocity committed by the oil companies," said Fajardo at press conference in Quito, Ecuador on October 9th.
In January, Indian Country Today Media Network reported, Fajardo had announced that the plaintiffs, mostly indigenous and rural farmers from the northern Amazonian community of the Lago Agrio region, would be pursuing legal actions against Chevron in all the countries where the company operated. Recent press reports noted that Fajardo and the plaintiffs were awaiting news of these efforts in Brazil, Argentina and Canada.
"We know that Chevron will obstruct this process," Fajardo stated at the press conference, "nevertheless, any worldwide business, no matter how powerful, must submit to the jurisdiction of any country."
Chevron issued the following press statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
"While Chevron is disappointed that the court denied our petition, we will continue to defend against the plaintiffs' lawyers attempts to enforce the fraudulent Ecuadorean judgment, and to further expose their misconduct."