Ecuador court upholds multi-billion dollar fine against Chevron

A three-judge panel of the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, on Jan. 3 upheld a multi-billion dollar fine against Chevron for polluting large areas of the Amazon rainforest in the 1980s. The $18 billion fine, one of the largest in the history of environmental contamination suits, was originally set at $8.6 billion, but was more than doubled for Chevron’s refusal to pay “moral reparations” to the Ecuadoran government, as required by the original ruling. As Chevron officials condemn the decision as fraudulent, unenforceable and corrupted by the politicization of Ecuador’s judiciary, the corporation is pursuing private recourse through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The corporation is also calling for a criminal investigation into the judge and plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case. Meanwhile, the Amazon Defense Coalition, plaintiffs in the suit, have responded that the judgment is a reaffirmation of how Chevron’s greed and criminal misconduct in dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the river has led to death and disease.

Damages were initially awarded in February by the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios which found that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, polluted large areas of the country’s rain forest. That month, Chevron filed a US lawsuit against plaintiffs’ lawyers and consultants in the case, claiming that plaintiffs were attempting to extort Chevron. The damages were then enjoined by a New York court in March, but the injunction was later overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In July, the Second Circuit upheld a May ruling by the Southern District of New York ordering filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron certain outtakes from his 2009 documentary Crude. Chevron claims the outtakes show plaintiffs’ lawyers discussing illegal and unethical tactics, including ghost-writing a court appointed expert’s report, intimidating a judge and colluding with government officials. Chevron claims that a 1995 cleanup agreement between Ecuador and Texaco, completed in 1998 at a cost of $40 million, absolves Chevron of all liability.

From Jurist, Jan. 4. Used with permission.

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