Chevron goes to trial in New York over $18 billion Ecuador award

Mon Oct 14, 2013 4:36pm EDT
 
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By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chevron Corp will try to convince a U.S. judge this week that a group of Ecuadorean villagers and their U.S. lawyer used bribery to win an $18 billion judgment against Chevron from a court in Ecuador, in the latest chapter in a long-running fight over pollution in the Amazon jungle.

In a trial starting Tuesday, the oil company is asking a federal court in New York to prevent the villagers and their Harvard-educated lawyer, Steven Donziger, from using U.S. courts to enforce the Ecuadorean judgment.

A victory in the United States would likely help Chevron's defense in other countries where Donziger and the villagers may seek to enforce the judgment.

"We believe that any jurisdiction that observes the rule of law will find that the judgment is illegal and unenforceable because it's a product of fraud," said Morgan Crinklaw, a spokesman for Chevron.

Donziger and the villagers say they did nothing wrong in obtaining the judgment, and they accuse the judge in the U.S. case, District Judge Lewis Kaplan, of bias against them.

"These claims by Chevron are utterly baseless," said Chris Gowen, a spokesman for Donziger and the Ecuadoreans.

The trial is the latest chapter in a dispute over environmental contamination between 1964 and 1992 at an oil field in northeastern Ecuador operated by Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001.

Chevron says Texaco cleaned up its share of waste before turning the field over to state-owned Petroecuador. But in 2011, an Ecuadorean court awarded $18 billion to people from the village of Lago Agrio, which was affected by the pollution. The court subsequently increased the award to $19 billion to cover fees.   Continued...

 
A Chevron gas station sign is pictured at one of their retain gas stations in Cardiff, California October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake