Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest Ran Deep In Recent Committee Hearing On Foreign Judgments
Amazon Defense Coalition
5 December 2011 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Washington, DC – Chevron, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a leading partner at the American law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher tried to mislead Congress about the oil giant's $18 billion environmental liability in Ecuador for the dumping of toxic waste and the decimation of indigenous groups, according to a letter submitted to the congressional record by lawyers for the affected Ecuadorian communities.
In a hearing before Congress on Nov. 15, John Bellinger – formerly the top lawyer for the State Department under the Bush Administration – presented false information about the Ecuador case to help Chevron evade the Ecuador judgment, according to the letter.
The accusation was made by two lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, Aaron Page and Pablo Fajardo, and submitted to U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law.
Bellinger, who represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the hearing, failed to disclose in his testimony that Chevron is one of the Chamber's largest financial supporters and has been actively working with it to help thwart the Ecuador legal judgment, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians.
Bellinger also failed to disclose that a new Chamber report, given to the subcommittee warning of a "new breed" of "abusive" foreign court judgments, was authored by none other than William Thomson, a Gibson Dunn lawyer who represents Chevron in its attempts to undermine the Ecuador court case. Thomson also failed to disclose in the report that he is the co-chair of a new Gibson Dunn practice marketing itself to American companies facing enforcement of foreign judgments.
Thomson also never discloses that he "stands to reap personal financial benefits" should the Congress take action to change current law regarding the enforceability of foreign judgments, based on the report's flawed conclusions, according to the letter.
"The Chamber's so-called 'report' on foreign judgments not only presents skewed data designed to shield American companies from liability for their misconduct, but also is being used as a marketing tool by William Thomson to attract clients to his law firm," said Hinton. The chamber report can be found here.
The letter also asked the subcommittee to question Linda Silberman, a law professor at New York University who testified at the hearing, about her possible ties to Chevron on the Ecuador case. Silberman pushed at the hearing for the adoption of a uniform federal statute to help corporations defeat enforcement of foreign judgments.
Hinton criticized the Chamber, Bellinger, and Thomson for their "blatant lack of ethics" in pushing Chevron's agenda before the committee while failing to disclose their ties to the company.
"This hearing was largely about how Chevron uses the Chamber as a front group in its increasingly desperate attempt to avoid paying for a clean-up of pollution that is devastating the lives of thousands of people," she said. "Bellinger served as the front man for the front group."
An Ecuador court in February found Chevron liable for the deliberate dumping of more than 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon from 1964 to 1992. The dumping poisoned the water supply in an area the size of Rhode Island and caused an outbreak of cancer and other oil-related diseases that continue to grow worse with time, according to evidence before the Ecuador court.
The magnitude of damage caused by Chevron in Ecuador dwarfs that caused by the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where analysts estimate the liability to be at least $60 billion. One expert has predicted thousands of cancer deaths in the coming years in the area where Chevron operated if there is no clean-up.
Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians, said that Bellinger and Thomson should be called before the committee to explain under oath why they did not disclose their conflicts and why they allowed misleading information to be presented.
In his written testimony, Bellinger stated falsely that Ecuador passed a law to specifically limit Chevron's defenses in the Ecuador court case. The charge echoes a longtime Chevron talking point, but it has been rejected by multiple courts around the world and in fact is contradicted by the evidence.
Bellinger also made inaccurate statements when he claimed that U.S. courts thus far have "refused" to recognize the Ecuador judgment. In fact, no U.S. court has even considered the question as the judgment is on appeal and not yet enforceable.
The letter also charged that the Chamber report authored by Thomson "contains numerous flaws" and is being used as a "scare tactic to undermine [those] who use the courts to seek accountability for victims of corporate abuse typified by what Chevron did in Ecuador."
Previous attempts by Chevron to lobby the Congress over the Ecuador case have backfired. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) has accused the company's lobbyists of engaging in an "extortion" attempt by trying to get Congress to cut trade preferences for Ecuador in retaliation for the lawsuit.
Chevron has engaged in judge-shopping to avoid being held liable for its Ecuador pollution. The rainforest communities originally filed the case in 1993 in U.S. federal court, but it was sent to Ecuador after the oil giant filed 14 affidavits praising the country's judicial system.
When the evidence in the Ecuador trial suggested Chevron was guilty of extensive pollution, the company shifted gears and started to attack Ecuador's court system even though it ranks near the top of all judiciaries in Latin America. See here and here.
The misleading testimony by Bellinger comes at a time when Chevron has suffered a series of legal setbacks in the case. In September, a U.S. appellate court in New York stayed the company's effort to use a federal trial judge to issue a worldwide injunction barring enforcement of the Ecuador judgment.