Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Chevron Offering Bribes to Ecuadorian Judges, Investigation Reveals

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

Quito, Ecuador – New evidence suggests that Chevron CEO John Watson has resorted to authorizing the offering of lucrative benefits packages to former Ecuadorian judges in return for false testimony designed to undermine the environmental trial that led to a $19 billion verdict against the company, according to a preliminary investigation by the rainforest communities.

The offers appear to take the form of a luxury lifetime package of kickbacks – including immigration to the U.S., a generous salary, payment of income taxes, and luxury housing and vehicles – that Chevron delivered in 2009 to one of its Ecuadorian contractors, Diego Borja. Borja in 2009 targeted a judge presiding over the case with a video entrapment scheme to manufacture evidence in Chevron's favor that backfired against the company.

The new effort – which representatives of the plaintiffs said was tantamount to bribery – comes at a time when Chevron seems increasingly prone to use desperate measures to shore up its ailing legal position after an Ecuador court found it guilty of deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste when it operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992. Chevron now faces seizure actions targeting an estimated $15 billion of assets in Canada and Brazil, while an Argentine court recently froze millions of dollars of company assets in that country.

Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the 80 indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador who won the judgment against Chevron, condemned the company for trying to undermine the rule of law to evade paying what it owes.

"We have been made aware of evidence that Chevron is offering substantial sums of money to trial judges in Ecuador in return for false testimony," he said. ‘We are in the process of analyzing this evidence and investigating further.

"This information unfortunately is consistent with Chevron's fraudulent and corrupt behavior in Ecuador for years," Fajardo added.

Fajardo said the latest information – including audiotapes of illicit contacts – is being provided to authorities in Ecuador and the United States. In the U.S., the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits improper payments to foreign officials in exchange for an economic benefit. Chevron already has paid the Department of Justice $30 million for violating the FCPA in Iraq.

The new evidence discovered by the plaintiffs includes:

  • Chevron appears to have provided substantial benefits to Alberto Guerra Bastides, a trial judge in Ecuador who presided over the environmental case for the first seven months of its existence in 2003. Guerra apparently has received the same lavish benefits Chevron gave to Borja. Chevron recently moved Guerra to the U.S., where the company is planning to produce a media event where he will make false and misleading allegations against the plaintiffs.
  • After "flipping" Guerra, Chevron appears to be using him to pressure other former judges in Ecuador who presided over the case to introduce them to the idea of secret benefits in exchange for false or misleading testimony. Part of the "pitch" is that if the judges do not go along with the plan, they will be attacked by Chevron as "corrupt" or they will miss out on the princely benefits package they could otherwise receive.
  • The Chevron operation is in part being executed by Andres Rivero, a Miami-based lawyer who formerly represented a Chevron executive on charges he tried to defraud Ecuador's government by implementing a sham environmental remediation. In recent months, Rivero – who is fluent in Spanish – has been in Ecuador various times to contact judges. Rivero is a former U.S. prosecutor who ironically has lectured several legal groups on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to his website.
  • The operation also marks the return in the case of the U.S.-based private investigations agency Kroll and notorious undercover operative Sam Anson, who now runs a private intelligence outfit in Miami called Custom Information Services that counts Chevron as its main client. When Anson worked directly for Kroll in 2010, he was caught offering $20,000 to an independent journalist to spy on the plaintiffs in Ecuador. Anson is considered to be the mastermind of Chevron's undercover operations in Ecuador, according to the investigation.

In a press statement put out by the plaintiffs in Ecuador, Fajardo said that Guerra had offered to provide truthful testimony to the rainforest communities if they would pay him. The communities refused on principle to accede to that request, and instead encouraged Guerra to disclose what he knew about Chevron's corruption and pressure campaign against him and other judges, said Fajardo. Rebuffed by the rainforest communities, Guerra then accepted Chevron's offer and moved to the U.S., he added.

"It always was obvious that Guerra wished to sell himself to the highest bidder, a fact which undermined his credibility and made him a profoundly unreliable witness," said Fajardo.

Fajardo also noted that Guerra had been removed from the bench in Ecuador after being denounced for acts of corruption or irregular behavior in more than 30 cases, including several involving drug traffickers who were let go prior to trial in violation of legal rules.

Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya indigenous group and the recently-named coordinator of the legal case for the affected communities, said the "buying" of witnesses by Chevron was nothing new. "If one reviews the history of the case, whenever Chevron's legal position deteriorates the company resorts to more corrupt acts," he said.

Chevron has a long history in Ecuador of trying to undermine the environmental trial through improper pressure and illegal means, according to Ecuador's courts. The final verdict included an $8.6 billion punitive damages penalty for trying to undermine the administration of justice in the country.

In 2009, with the scientific evidence at trial overwhelmingly pointing to Chevron's guilt and with a verdict imminent, the company launched a video entrapment scheme where company operative Borja was caught offering the sitting trial judge a bribe in exchange for a remediation contract. The action backfired when it was disclosed that Chevron paid Borja at least $2 million for his efforts, which involved moving him to the U.S., housing him in a luxury home just miles from corporate headquarters near San Francisco, paying his income taxes, cell phone bill, first-class travel expenses, and legal fees needed to fend off criminal and civil investigations.

In 2010, Chevron was caught trying to offer an illegal $1 billon bribe to Ecuador's government in exchange for an agreement that the government would violate its own Constitution and quash the legal case. Chevron operatives also were caught creating fake military intelligence reports to undermine the trial process in Ecuador.

More recently, a Chevron technical expert disclosed documents that the company designed its soil sampling plan during the trial to evade contaminated areas and to hide dirty soil samples from the court. Another Chevron technical expert, Fernando Reyes, offered an "affidavit" that contained numerous inaccuracies meant to favor Chevron's narrative. Earlier, Chevron had produced an internal memo directing all employees in Ecuador to destroy records of oil spills.

Much of Chevron's history of trying to corrupt the trial in Ecuador through intimidation, bribes, and espionage is summarized in these court documents filed by New York lawyer Steven Donziger and Ecuadorian lawyer Juan Pablo Saenz.

Rivero represented Rodrigo Perez Pallares, Chevron's longtime lawyer in Ecuador and one of the masterminds of a fraudulent remediation in the mid-1990s that the company still tries to use as a defense at trial.

Perez Pallares, who openly mocked the idea that Ecuadorians have died of cancer due to Chevron's contamination despite strong evidence to the contrary, recently died of cancer himself in Ecuador.