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In case over Amazon cleanup, Chevron releases videotapes it says implicate the judge in a bribery scheme.
BOGOTA, Colombia — With talk of million-dollar payoffs and clandestine videos made with James Bond-style mini-cameras, the legal battle pitting Chevron Corp against Ecuadorian activists over environmental damage in the Amazon jungle is getting stranger by the day.
In the latest twist in the 15-year-old legal case, Chevron has released videotapes that, according to the company, implicate the presiding judge and an official from the country’s ruling political party in a $3 million bribery scheme.
In one of the videos, Judge Juan Nunez also appears to acknowledge that he will soon rule against Chevron.
“These videos raise serious questions about corruption, executive branch interference and prejudgment of the case,” said Chevron Executive Vice President Charles James in a statement.
But Steven Donziger, a New York-based attorney representing the plaintiffs, charged Chevron with carrying out a “Richard Nixon-style dirty-tricks campaign” to smear Ecuador’s legal system and delay a final ruling. If Chevron loses, the San Ramon, Calif.,-based firm could be ordered to pay up to $27 billion in reparations — potentially the largest civil damages award ever imposed. Chevron, meanwhile, has lobbied the U.S. government to impose trade sanctions on Ecuador as punishment for the way the case has been handled.
The plaintiffs in the suit, who include thousands of residents living in the Amazon region in northeastern Ecuador, claim that oil production by Texaco — which operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990 and was acquired by Chevron in 2001 — poisoned their lands, rivers and ground water with toxic chemicals.
Chevron, which has no operations in Ecuador, argues that Texaco carried out a successful clean-up of 160 waste pits and that the company was released from any future liability for environmental damages by the Ecuadorian government.
Although Chevron has at times praised the Ecuadorian courts, the company portrays itself as the victim of a corrupt legal system, and Ecuador’s left-wing president, Rafael Correa, who has publicly sided with the plaintiffs. The videotapes now stand as Exhibit A for the company’s argument.
Chevron said the recordings were made by Diego Borja, a former Chevron contractor, and an American businessman identified as Wayne Hansen who apparently was seeking contracts to clean up oil production sites once Judge Nunez handed down his verdict.