Enviro Groups Accused of Bribing Judge in Chevron Case


A number of indigenous groups from Ecuador and the government of Ecuador have been involved in a lawsuit against Chevron for almost 18 years at this point (a decent background on the case). Recently, it was alleged that a judge who wrote a negative summary judgement against Chevron had been the recipient of $500,000 from corrupt lawyers and a corrupt judge. More specifically, it was a similarly involved judge himself who admitted to this behavior under a sworn affidavit:

In a sworn declaration filed today in New York federal court, Alberto Guerra, who presided over the case when it was first filed in 2003, reveals that he was paid thousands of dollars by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and a subsequent judge, Nicholas Zambrano, for illegally ghostwriting judicial orders issued by Zambrano and steering the case in the plaintiffs’ favor.  Guerra, who is no longer a judge, attests that the plaintiffs’ lawyers were permitted to draft the $18 billion judgment in their own favor after they promised to pay Zambrano a $500,000 bribe out of the judgment’s enforcement proceeds, and that Guerra then reviewed the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ draft for Zambrano before the judge issued it as his own. . . .

Guerra’s declaration, which is corroborated by computer, bank, and shipping records, as well as the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ own internal e-mails, provides a direct account of corruption that has tainted the trial for years.  Guerra describes multiple meetings with the plaintiffs’ lawyers and representatives – namely, New York-based Steven Donziger, Pablo Fajardo, and Luis Yanza – to discuss payoffs, kickbacks, and the ghostwriting of court orders favorable to the plaintiffs.

Texaco, purchased in 2001 by Chevron, was heavily involved in drilling for oil in Ecuador in the 1970s and 1980s. Texaco has admitted to causing environmental damage, but claims that Texaco has already done its fair share of cleaning up, as it was drilling in conjunction with a national Ecuadorian oil company, which according to this article held a much larger legal stake than did Texaco at the time:

In Chevron’s reckoning, however, these environmental claims and counterclaims are all somewhat beside the point, because the company’s defense ultimately rests not on science but on law. In 1995, Texaco acknowledged that it had made a mess in the Amazon, and committed itself to doing some remediation. But the company also emphasized that it had been part of a consortium in Ecuador—one that included the national oil company—and that its stake in the partnership had been thirty-seven per cent. Texaco therefore agreed to clean up only thirty-seven per cent of the pits, even though, as the consortium’s sole “operator,” it had been responsible for both drilling the wells and digging the pits.

Texaco spent forty million dollars on the cleanup, and in 1998 the Ecuadoran government granted the company a release from any future claims against it. Chevron freely admits that large sludge pits still dot the Amazon, but denies that it has a legal obligation to clean up more of them. Instead, it suggests, that responsibility should fall to the national oil company, Petroecuador, which has managed extraction in Lago Agrio since Texaco’s departure and has been accused of polluting extensively in the region.

It’s certainly possible that the Ecuadorian government didn’t require Texaco to do sufficient cleaning up, but if the government granted Ecuador a clean slate it’s hard to argue that legally they still owe more.

Recall that Resourceful Earth previously wrote about this case in regards to the scientists who were caught on tape stating that the environmental assessment report didn’t matter, and that it was all a bunch of “smoke and mirrors and bull****.” It seems as if their assessment was accurate. Ironically, before engaging in corruption themselves, the environmental groups and their lawyer seemed worried that Chevron might be the corrupt entity in this case:

Donziger had worried that Yánez could be manipulated into making a corrupt ruling. But, in urging him to remain upright, the plaintiffs were exploiting Yánez’s vulnerabilities as leverage. “So instead of a strong judge who sees the viability of our case,” Donziger wrote, “we now might have a weak judge who wants to rule correctly for all the wrong, personal reasons.”

While it’s easy to have sympathy for the Ecuadorian’s who have had to live through this, it’s very hard to have any sympathy for the environmental giants (and their corporate lawyers) who have lied every step of the way in this court case.

Chevron is now counter-suing under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). They hope that the revealed corruption will counter any leverage by the Ecuadorian government to collect a judgement issued by an Ecuadorian court (now understood to be written by a corrupted judge).




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