Ecuador high court upholds Chevron verdict, halves fine

Wed Nov 13, 2013 3:54pm EST
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By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador's highest court upheld a verdict that U.S. oil company Chevron Corp (CVX.N: Quote) is responsible for pollution in an Amazon rainforest, but halved the fine imposed in a previous trial to $9.5 billion, a decision the company dismissed as illegitimate.

Chevron took the case to the National Court of Justice after a lower court deemed in 2011 that Chevron was responsible for pollution caused by U.S. oil company Texaco, which operated there between 1964 and 1992, and whose assets Chevron bought in 2001.

The judge in the 2011 ruling ordered the company to pay $9.5 billion plus an additional $9.5 billion for refusing to publicly apologize for the pollution.

The National Court of Justice on Tuesday determined there had been no legal basis to sanction Chevron for not apologizing.

Villagers in the Lago Agrio region say the pollution has harmed their health. Chevron counters that Texaco cleaned up the area before handing it over to Ecuador's state oil company, Petroecuador, which Chevron says bears responsibility.

Chevron spokesman James Craig said the decision against the company, confirmed by the National Court of Justice late on Tuesday, was "illegitimate and inapplicable."

The company's New York-traded shares were down just a fraction at $119.58 in afternoon trading.

"The only decision that the Court of Justice could have taken ... was to declare the trial null and void and leave this illegitimate sentence without effect," he said in a statement on Wednesday.   Continued...

A waste pit filled with crude oil left by Texaco drilling operations years earlier lies in a jungle clearing near the Amazonian town of Sacha, Ecuador, October 21, 2003, on the day of the start of a landmark trial where Ecuadoran Indians are seeking to force ChevronTexaco to clean up the environmental contamination left behind from Texaco's operations. RTR5EYI