Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Villagers Threaten New Lawsuit Against Chevron In U.S. Courts; Order Company to Cease Destruction of Documents

Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

New York, NY – Indigenous villagers and their lawyers have ordered Chevron to cease the destruction of all documents related to oil contamination in Ecuador's rainforest in light of compelling new evidence the company presented false witness testimony and committed multiple legal violations in its campaign to evade a $9.5 billion environmental liability.

The demand, in a letter to Chevron's lawyers and private investigators, indicated the villagers and their counsel are considering a lawsuit against the company and its agents for malicious prosecution, fraud, defamation, and obstruction of justice, among other violations. The allegations, some of which are outlined in earlier counterclaims filed against the company, relate to Chevron's fabrication of evidence and fraudulent cover-up of its toxic dumping in Ecuador.

The villagers and their lawyers also want to preserve the option of using documents that otherwise might be destroyed in a lawsuit in Canada where they are trying to seize Chevron's assets to pay for their judgment, said Steven Donziger, the longtime U.S. legal advisor to the villagers. Donziger signed the letter along with Richard Friedman, a well-known trial attorney in Seattle who represents Donziger.

"This letter is one of the steps the villagers are taking to hold Chevron officials and their lawyers personally accountable for falsifying evidence and engaging in an array of illicit activity, with the goal of trying to evade responsibility for a court-mandated clean-up of oil pollution in Ecuador," said Donziger.

"Chevron officials have a disturbing history of destroying or claiming to lose key documents and other critical evidence that points to the company's culpability," he added. "We want to ensure that no longer happens as the villagers press forward to collect their judgment."

The demand was made to Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Chevron's main outside counsel on the case and a firm already sanctioned by various judges for unethical activity in the Ecuador and other matters (see here for more background); the private investigation firms Kroll and Investigative Research Inc., along with IRI's President Oliver Douglas Beard, all suspected of fabricating fake witness testimonies, false reports of security threats to Chevron officials, and engaging in espionage against Donziger and his colleagues in the United States and Ecuador.

Also targeted by the letter is the Miami-based Chevron lawyer Andres Rivero, who has admitted to paying paid tens of thousands of dollars in cash out of a suitcase in an apparent effort to bribe an Ecuadorian trial judge to testify falsely against Donziger and Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo; Stroz Friedberg, Chevron's forensic consulting firm; and the Chevron law firms Jones Day, King & Spalding, and Kobre Kim, all of whom have been involved in litigations that involved the presentation of falsified witness testimony and who have played key roles in the company's abusive litigation strategy, said Donziger.

Much of the false witness relates to Alberto Guerra, to whom Chevron paid at least $2 million in cash and benefits -- including moving his entire family from Ecuador to the United States -- in exchange for testimony that the trial judge in Ecuador was bribed by the plaintiffs. Guerra's testimony is full of internal contradictions and has been completely disproven by computer forensic analysis; Chevron lawyers Avi Weitzman and Randy Mastro were involved in coaching him for 53 days before he was allowed to take the stand. (For more background, see here and this article in the Huffington Post.)

"As more information has come to light, it appears likely that you and your client have engaged in fraud, extortion, malicious prosecution, defamation, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and the manufacture and presentation of false evidence," said the letter. "As just one of many examples, you were involved in the procurement of false testimony from Alberto Guerra, and/or the presentation of that evidence in legal and public forums, while knowing it to be false or recklessly disregarding its falsity."

The letter also ordered the entities to preserve even privileged documents between attorneys given that the "crime fraud" exception most likely applies to the conduct at issue.

In 2013, after 20 years of litigation repeatedly stymied by Chevron's delaying tactics, the villagers won a unanimous environmental judgment against the company from Ecuador's Supreme Court. Although Chevron had insisted the litigation take place in Ecuador, the company has since engaged in a global game of forum shopping in multiple jurisdictions to try to evade paying the judgment.

In early September, Chevron suffered a major setback when Canada's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Ecuadorians can try to seize company assets in that country. Chevron has an estimated $15 billion worth of assets in Canada, or more than enough to satisfy the entirety of the Ecuador judgment. The assets include a refinery, offshore oil fields, and various pending pipeline deals related to a major tar sands project.

Chevron and its agents have a history of destroying documents in the Ecuador case to avoid the disclosure of embarrassing information. In the 1970s, the company distributed an internal memo ordering the destruction of all documents related to oil spills in Ecuador.

Two years ago, Chevron's main outside scientist on the case – John Conner of GSI Environmental – admitted in a sworn deposition to destroying documents related to various "studies" he had conducted for Chevron for the Ecuador case. Conner, who was supervised by Chevron scientist Sara McMillan, is also the author of the infamous Chevron field manual that directed company scientists to only lift "clean" soil during the pollution trial in Ecuador to hide contamination from the court.

(For more background on Chevron's efforts to corrupt the Ecuadorian court process, see this affidavit from Ecuadorian lawyer Juan Pablo Saenz. For a full copy of the evidence preservation letter referenced in this press release, see here.)