Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Chevron Using Espionage Against Lawyers Who Won $18 Billion Verdict In Ecuador

Urgent Measures Sought to Protect Physical Security In Light of Threats, Surveillance

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

New York, NY – Facing increased financial risk in Latin America, Chevron has launched a corporate espionage campaign designed to intimidate and track the whereabouts of the lead lawyers who recently won an $18 billion judgment for environmental damage against the oil giant in Ecuador's courts, said the Amazon Defense Coalition.

The purpose of the espionage campaign – being carried out by at least four different investigation firms working for Chevron in the United States and Latin America – is partly to threaten the legal team and partly to obtain confidential information about the strategy of the rainforest communities as they prepare to file collection actions against the oil giant's assets around the world, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians.

Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the rainforest communities in Ecuador and himself a target of the campaign, issued an urgent call to human rights organizations and governments worldwide to protect the lawyers and other advocates working on the case.

"Evidence is mounting that the lives and well-being of those working on the case are under an orchestrated attack from Chevron," said Fajardo. "We are urgently calling on all people of conscience to protect the right of the rainforest communities devastated by Chevron's contamination to continue to pursue their legal claims free from threats and intimidation."

A court in February of 2011 found Chevron dumped billions of gallons of toxic water of formation throughout an area the size of Rhode Island, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer that threatens thousands of lives. See here and here.

The discovery of the spying operation comes at a delicate time for Chevron CEO John Watson and the company's star General Counsel, former Bush Administration official, R. Hewitt Pate. Not only is Chevron facing the large liability in Ecuador for what experts consider to be one of the world's worst environmental disasters, but also Brazil's government recently sued the company for $11 billion over an offshore oil spill earlier this year.

Among the facts that confirm the existence of the espionage campaign:

  • Steven Donziger, the New York attorney who is the long-time legal advisor to the Ecuadorians, has been followed in recent weeks in New York City on a 24/7 basis by a team of six "investigators" believed to be connected to a U.S. law firm working for Chevron on the Ecuador case. Those surveilling Donziger park their cars outside his apartment building in Manhattan and then follow him when he travels by taxi or bike to his appointments around the city. These facts have been confirmed by numerous witnesses, including a retired FBI agent hired to conduct counter-surveillance of the Chevron spy team.
  • At times, Donziger's wife, five-year-old son, and friends also have been followed as they leave his apartment building and move around Manhattan.
  • Chevron's investigators also have been clandestinely filming Donziger when he is in Ecuador and then streaming live video of his movements over the internet so the company's American investigators can watch him in real time from the United States. Lawyers for the Ecuadorians have confirmed this aspect of the spy operation is controlled by an individual who works or worked for Kroll, a publicly traded investigations firm in the U.S. that counts Chevron as a major client.
  • In the Amazon town of Lago Agrio in Ecuador, Fajardo has been repeatedly followed in recent weeks by individuals who take photos of him and appear to report his whereabouts via telephone. Fajardo also has received numerous anonymous phone calls in recent weeks where the person on the line hangs up. He also had his computer hacked on several occasions in recent months from an IP address in the United States.
  • Last week, a team of three women posing as journalists talked their way into the legal team's Ecuador office in a residential neighborhood in Quito and began taking pictures. On Tuesday of this week, a group of men who claimed they were lawyers surrounded Fajardo under the pretense of serving him legal papers from a case Chevron initiated in the United States. The men filmed their interaction with Fajardo, who at the time feared he was potentially going to be killed or robbed.
  • People associated with Yanza, including his wife and landlord, have received repeated inquiries in recent weeks seeking sensitive personal data. Individuals have also been stationed outside of Yanza's home in the Amazon town of Coca, where they regularly take pictures of the community leader and his family members as a form of intimidation.
  • Donald Moncayo, a key member of the Lago Agrio team who is well-known to many journalists for his guided tours of Chevron's contaminated well sites, was the victim of an attempted robbery by a Chevron security official. The official tried to reach his hand into Moncayo's backpack and pull out papers while he was not looking. Moncayo stopped the official, but the same backpack was later stolen from his car along with an estimated 400 business cards of various journalists he had met over the last several years.

Members of the Ecuador legal team are seeking to re-institute emergency protection measures awarded them several years ago by the Inter-American Commission On Human Rights, said Fajardo. The body, part of the Organization of American States, issued the measures in 2006 when members of the Ecuador legal team were hit with a spate of death threats and assaults as the scientific evidence against Chevron began to mount and the company suffered a series of setbacks in Ecuador's courts.

The information gleaned so far is believed to be only the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of documenting Chevron's espionage activities, said Hinton. "We are continuing to investigate both the activities of Chevron's in-house counsel and its law firms in this regard," she said.

The four different investigations firms Chevron is using on the Ecuador case include Kroll; the Mason Investigative Group, based on San Francisco; Investigative Research Services, a Texas-based company headed by former CIA operative Douglas Beard; and a firm based in Colombia that is a sub-contractor for most of Chevron's work on the Ecuador matter in Latin America.

The coordinator of Chevron's spy operation is thought to be Sam Anson, a former journalist and Kroll executive who was caught trying to bribe an American freelance journalist Mary Cudahee to spy on the plaintiffs in Ecuador.

Shortly thereafter Anson was outed by Cudahee, he left Kroll and is now employed full-time on the Ecuador matter at a salary estimated at $500,000 annually, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Chevron's legal department, headed by Pate, has an increasingly checkered history in recent years. In 2007, Chevron was hit with a $28 million fine by the Department of Justice for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Iraq. The company also was rebuked the U.S. Department of the Interior for corrupting government officials to reduce its royalty payments. In Ecuador, Pate's legal team was hit with a $8.6 punitive damages award for acting in bad faith, filing frivolous motions to delay the trial, and threatening judges with jail time if they did not rule in the company's favor.

The combined liabilities in Brazil and Ecuador threaten to undermine Chevron's standing in Latin America, an oil-rich region considered vital to Chevron's longterm growth prospects.

Because Chevron has refused to pay the Ecuador judgment, lawyers for the rainforest communities are gearing up to initiate standard collection actions against the oil giant's assets in countries around the world. Chevron is using its spy operation to determine where the communities plan to bring collection actions, said Hinton.

In the Ecuador trial, Chevron also has used clandestine and potentially illegal tactics to sabotage the proceedings. They include an entrapment scheme against a sitting judge that backfired and implicated a Chevron operative in a bribe attempt; the sudden disappearance of Wayne Hansen, an American man involved in the entrapment scheme, after he was subpoenaed under the order of a U.S. federal court; emails between Hansen and the principals of the Mason Investigative Group as Hansen was moving out of the United States. See this article.

Chevron also has tried to shut down the environmental case by offering a $1 billion bribe to Ecuador's government; the company's former lead lawyer, Ricardo Reis Veiga, testified under oath that he asked the country's Attorney General to illegally order the trial judge to shut down the case; and Chevron lawyers tried to enlist U.S. diplomats in Ecuador to help them undermine the lawsuit, according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.