Eye on the Amazon

Chevron's Corrupt Legal Practices Called Out by Leading Human Rights and Environmental NGOs

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

A single U.S. federal judge – one who refused to consider the evidence of Chevron's toxic contamination in the Amazon, who rejected pleas for a jury trial, and who based his decision on the testimony of a witness he knew to be corrupt (and was paid millions by Chevron to testify) – is enabling Chevron's shocking abuse of the legal system in its ongoing effort to stop anyone seeking justice for its admitted crimes in Ecuador. The human rights community is standing up to say, "Enough!"

That judge, Lewis Kaplan, is now threatening to arrest and jail human rights attorney Steven Donziger for his refusal to turn over his passport, laptop, cell phone, and even his email passwords to the court, which would in turn give Chevron access to them. Despite its underhanded victory in its fraudulent RICO SLAPP suit against Donziger and the Ecuadorians (in which it claimed to be the true victim, despite deliberately poisoning the lands and drinking water of 30,000 Ecuadorians), the company is still seeking to intimidate and silence those who continue to fight for a clean-up in Ecuador.

That's why Chevron was declared Corporate Bully of the Year by the Protect the Protest coalition, a group of NGOs whose mission is to defend the rights of individuals and organizations from corporate SLAPP attacks. Now Amnesty International, Greenpeace USA, and a host of other NGOs who focus on corporate accountability and human rights are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate Chevron's corrupt legal actions and the unprecedented circumstances of the RICO case and Kaplan's ruling. If Chevron intended to shut everyone up by applying more intimidation tactics, they have only succeeded in producing the opposite result.

The letter sent this week in support of previous demands by Global Witness and Amazon Watch states:

"We... write to join the demand by Global Witness that the U.S. Department of Justice open an investigation of Chevron Corporation and its attorneys based on credible evidence of apparently corrupt conduct related to retaliatory litigation targeting Ecuadorian plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio case and human rights lawyer and activist Steven Donziger.

"...It is also extremely concerning to us that Chevron has been able to leverage this apparently paid and largely false witness testimony to target the reputation of Mr. Donziger, who has worked for more than two decades with the affected communities in Ecuador to try to hold Chevron accountable for what is considered one of the worst oil-related environmental disasters on the planet."

DOJ support letterAs we have detailed many times, Chevron (then operating as Texaco) deliberately dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon over the course of 26 years, and it did so to save about $3 per barrel. The company admitted to the deliberate contamination, attempted to work out a sham deal to "clean up" by paying $40 million to the government of Ecuador and dumping some dirt over a small number of the nearly 1000 unlined open-air waste pits, and then called it a day. After years of waging an epic civil suit, the actual people harmed by Chevron won a $9.5 billion verdict to pay for a clean-up and health care for the people affected by decades of toxic contamination.

Chevron has refused to pay the judgment and now it even denies the existence of the overwhelming scientific evidence against it. How on Earth are they able to make this claim with a straight face? The answer should worry every single individual concerned with corporate power, environmental protection, and human rights.

Chevron used its unlimited resources to fabricate a countersuit and – after forum shopping for years – successfully orchestrated one in a court which would ignore the facts of the contamination, had zero understanding of Ecuadorian law, and would base its decision on the key witness for Chevron. This witness was a disgraced ex-judge named Alberto Guerra, who lost his judgeship for accepting multiple bribes and who had pennies in his bank account at the time, was paid millions for his testimony by Chevron, and who was coached by its lawyers for 53 days before testifying.

The facts of Chevron's sham RICO case have been reported many times before, but what's new here is that Chevron is trying to use the discredited decision to block any future action against it anywhere and to intimidate those still supporting Donziger and the case and prevent him from continuing to work on enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment outside of the U.S. (something Kaplan previously said his judgment did not preclude).

It's critical to remember that Guerra admitted that he lied in Kaplan's court after the judgment was issued and that verifiable forensic evidence disproving Chevron's dubious claims that someone else "ghost wrote" the Ecuadorian judgment were never reviewed by any U.S. court. No other judge but Kaplan reviewed his findings of "facts," which pointedly excluded any evidence of the actual contamination or its effects

It could not have been more obvious that Guerra was corrupt. In fact, transcripts of testimony of him negotiating his bribe with Chevron reveal that he actually said on tape: "Money talks, but gold screams."

Furthermore, every judge who has reviewed the substantial evidence in Ecuador has ruled against Chevron and even its own leaked internal videos show that the company knew its clean-up was a sham years before the Ecuadorian judgment was issued and affirmed by its highest court.

For all these reasons it's critical that another U.S. entity investigate the abuse of the U.S. legal system, the corrupt acts of Chevron and their lawyers, and the abuse of power by Judge Kaplan. The implications of this precedent would mean that a corporation could commit heinous acts of destruction, openly pay a witness to lie in its defense, fabricate evidence, and then with the cooperation of a single, clearly biased judge, use a judgment to silence anyone who denounces their obvious crimes. Internal Chevron emails from 2009 revealed that its strategy was to "demonize Donziger", and it continues that scheme today. What signal would it send to the rest of the human rights community if Chevron is allowed to get away with such extreme acts of corruption to silence critics? Who would take on Chevron the next time it commits similar acts elsewhere?

Chevron's lie about the legitimate Ecuadorian verdict is the basis for its ongoing violations of human rights, and Steven Donziger is the latest victim. The human rights and environmental community – represented by Amnesty International, Global Witness, Greenpeace USA, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch and others – is demanding Chevron's transgressions be investigated and stopped. To quote the Protect The Protest coalition: "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

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