Quito, Ecuador – In a dramatic turn in the 22 year-old legal effort by Ecuadorian rainforest villagers to hold Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX) to account for massive on-going environmental contamination in the Amazon, the key witness in Chevron’s counter-suit has admitted under oath to making up accusations of bribery and ghostwriting.
As reported by VICE News and Courthouse News, transcripts released today in the parallel legal dispute between Chevron and the Ecuadorian government before an arbitration tribunal reveal that Alberto Guerra, a disgraced ex-judge who became the lynchpin of Chevron’s RICO suit against Ecuadorians and their legal team as a means to avoid paying the $9.5 billion judgment, admits, “Yes sir, I lied there…I wasn’t being truthful,” when asked about his accusation that plaintiffs’ legal team offered him a $300,000 bribe to rule in their favor.
The transcripts also discuss forensic evidence which disprove Guerra’s prior claim that the plaintiffs ghostwrote the final judgment against Chevron. He admitted as much on the witness stand, testifying that he knowingly introduced false and misleading evidence at the RICO trial and that the company offered him more money if he could produce evidence or copies of a ‘ghostwritten’ draft judgment. He could not. “We were unable to find the main document,” Guerra recalled Chevron saying. “Had we been able to find it, we would have been able to offer you a larger amount. Something like that, we have $18,000 for you.”
“This proves what we knew all along – that Chevron’s RICO trial is a farce,” said Paul Paz y Miño, Director of Outreach and Online Strategy at Amazon Watch. “Guerra has so thoroughly perjured himself he should be behind bars. And so should Chevron management. Chevron has taken the people of Ecuador and the U.S. court system on a ride, full of lies, deliberate delay, and obstruction of justice. This is vindication for the Ecuadorians and counsel Steven Donziger and we now hope Chevron will finally do the right thing and clean up their toxic mess,” continued Paz y Miño.
Guerra’s testimony shines new light on the extent of Chevron’s payments to him for his false testimony, some $12,000 per month plus other perks which included a car, health care, and relocating him and his family to the United States.. “We’re talking about $144,000 for 2013,” admits Guerra. Additionally, Guerra admits there was no intervention by the Ecuadorian government, and in fact, it was Chevron who sought to obstruct justice and corrupt the process. The only time the government tried to insert itself into the private litigation was in Chevron’s favor, when, in 2003, the company sought to have the case thrown out after it was sent to Ecuador by a New York trial judge at Chevron’s request.
The case was originally filed in 1993 in New York against Texaco for spilling some 18 million gallons of crude, 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, and leaving behind 1,000 toxic waste pits, creating a health crisis for indigenous and farmer communities who live within the company’s one million hectare rainforest oil concession. After merging with Chevron, the case was sent to Ecuador after the company provided extensive evidence of the independence and transparency of the Ecuadorian judiciary. After a ten-year trial and hundreds of thousands of soil and water samples that proved on-going contamination from the company’s former sites – even well sites the company claims to have cleaned up – Chevron was found guilty and ordered to pay $9.5 billion for environmental remediation, health care, and clean water to indigenous and farmer communities who have long suffered from the company’s drill and dump practices between 1964 and 1991.
The verdict was upheld by three layers of Ecuadorian courts – including the country’s Supreme Court, yet Chevron has refused to abide by the judgment, instead stripping its assets from the country and forcing rainforest residents to pursue the company in other jurisdictions around the world.
In its efforts to avoid paying and further delay the already decades-long struggle for justice, Chevron filed a countersuit using the RICO statute in New York courts, claiming the Ecuadorians and legal team bribed the Ecuadorian judge and ‘ghostwrote’ the judgment for him. Simultaneously, Chevron also filed an arbitration suit against the Ecuadorian government, hedging its bets in case it lost the original Aguinda v. Chevron case, and hoping to force the government to pay for any clean up if the company were found liable. The arbitration trial is now coming back to haunt Chevron as evidence continues to surface undermining the company’s arguments and witnesses in the RICO case.
In a statement by Steven Donziger – the focus of Chevron’s attacks in the RICO case and target of Guerra’s main accusations of offering a bribe to ghostwrite the final judgment against Chevron, he explains, “The latest iteration of Guerra’s testimony proves clearly that Chevron paid its star witness huge sums of money to present false evidence to frame the very people in Ecuador the company poisoned. The disclosure of the latest corrupt and falsified witness testimony from Guerra demonstrates once and for all that Chevron’s so-called racketeering case has completely fallen apart and that CEO John Watson needs to be held personally accountable for the legal violations involved.”
Donziger recently informed Chevron to retain and not destroy documents, alluding to a possible future suit against the company and its lawyers for malicious prosecution, fraud, and corruption.
The Guerra revelations are the tip of the iceberg of a pattern of fraud committed by Chevron in the case. Secret, internal Chevron videos released by Amazon Watch show Chevron contractors attempting to undermine the trial in Ecuador by only searching for clean soil samples of contaminated areas – a task that proved difficult given the extent of the contamination.
Past drilling operations were also replete with deceitful practices. The 327 well sites were designed to pollute, hiding undisclosed waste pits and dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste upstream from where indigenous and farmer communities bathe, fish, and drink. A sham “clean-up” was little more than covering waste pits with dirt. Transcripts released last week and reported by VICE show that the tribunal conducted four site visits to contaminated sites-some of which were allegedly cleaned up by Chevron-but new tests show they are still toxic.
“The revelations from the arbitration tribunal on Guerra’s testimony and site visits by the panel are likely to loom large as the Second Circuit reviews the RICO case, and Canada’s Supreme Court unanimously agreed to allow Ecuadorian communities the right to seek company assets as a way of enforcing the $9.5 billion owed to them. We expect based on these new revelations that completely undermine the foundation of Chevron’s RICO case, the U.S. federal appeals court must be considering throwing it out in its entirety,” said Paul Paz y Miño of Amazon Watch. “The way that Chevron has conducted itself in this trial is exactly how the company operated in Ecuador’s Amazon: corrupt, with disdain for the local communities who, because of the company’s delays, have been denied the justice they deserve for so long,”