The People of Ecuador V. Chevron
12 November 2015 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
New York, NY – Chevron has quietly renewed its controversial contract to pay a hefty salary to its star witness in the Ecuador pollution case even after he admitted committing perjury on the stand to try to taint the $9.5 billion environmental judgment against the oil giant, according to sworn testimony recently made available to the public.
Chevron's move to renew the contract with Alberto Guerra at a salary of $144,000 annually was blasted by advocates for the indigenous and farmer communities who have accused the oil giant of trying to corrupt legal proceedings to evade paying for its court-ordered clean-up in Ecuador. One group said it was preparing to ask the Department of Justice to investigate the oil company over the payments, which is said amounted to "witness bribery".
"Money talks, but gold screams," Guerra was famously quoted as saying in a taped conversation when meeting in Ecuador with Chevron's investigators who were seeking his cooperation.
"It is unethical, illegal and utterly shocking that Chevron continues to pay huge sums to a completely discredited witness who has admitted to repeatedly lying and accepting bribes to testify falsely in court," said Paul Paz y Miño, a director at the environmental group Amazon Watch and a supporter of the villagers who won the judgment. "This arrangement is worthy of a criminal investigation and we are asking the Department of Justice to look into it. We consider Chevron to have engaged in witness bribery."
Several news outlets reported recently that Chevron's total payments to Guerra have surpassed $2 million and are continuing under the terms of a new contract that has not been disclosed publicly. Chevron's prior contract with Guerra also paid him $12,000 monthly for no work other than to cooperate with the company as a witness; it also provided health insurance for Guerra and several family members, payments to lawyers who are handling his immigration and other issues, payments to an accountant, a housing allowance, and a car.
The first contract Chevron signed with Guerra began in 2013 and ran for two years before expiring last January, according to Guerra's recent testimony in an arbitration proceeding between Chevron and Ecuador's government. Guerra testified in the proceeding that he had only $146 in the bank when he struck the deal with the oil company.
Chevron's arrangement with Guerra appears to violate a federal law that prohibits paying for witness testimony and again calls into question the ethics of the oil giant's lead outside lawyers at the firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (GDC). GDC is already under fire for allegations it has falsified evidence for Chevron and another client, the African nation of Djibouti. A leading national authority on professional ethics in the law, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California at Irvine, also has criticized Chevron's practice of paying witnesses for their testimony.
Less well-known is the slew of other benefits the oil giant has showered on Guerra since it moved him to the United States in January of 2013 to play a central role in the company's retaliatory "racketeering" (or RICO) case against the Ecuadorian villagers who obtained the environmental judgment. That case –which was harshly criticized by participants as a mockery of justice and a "Dickensian farce" – was heard in late in 2013 and is currently under appeal.
More details of Chevron's payments recently were disclosed with the public release of 3,000 pages of transcripts from the arbitration proceeding. The transcripts demonstrate Guerra's testimony during the RICO case unraveled as the witness admitted he lied on the stand, as reported in this article by Courthouse News, this article by Vice, and this blog by the environmental group Amazon Watch.
Among the many benefits Guerra has now admitted receiving from Chevron, according to the transcripts:
- Payments to one of America's most prominent immigration attorneys to help Guerra and several family members – including three of his adult children – obtain political asylum in the United States, apparently based on the false pretense that Guerra faced threats in Ecuador after the government threatened to prosecute him for perjury. The value of this service is estimated to be at least $500,000;
- Payments for a personal attorney in the U.S. who was by Guerra's side constantly, including during each of the 53 days that the GDC lawyers coached the witness before putting on the stand. The value of this service over three years is estimated to be a minimum of $2 million and possibly much higher;
- Payments by Chevron for a separate tax attorney and accountant for Guerra;
- Payments of all of Guerra's income taxes based on an annual salary of $144,000 and the other benefits received.
Luis Yanza, a representative of the villagers and a winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, took aim at Chevron for "corrupting" the judicial process by paying witnesses and moving its operatives out of Ecuador after they committed perjury.
"Chevron and its lawyers gave a key witness cash out of a suitcase to falsify evidence to taint the Ecuador judgment so the company does not have to pay for the clean-up of oil pollution that is causing grave harm to thousands of people," he said. "This is just one example of the company's plan to threaten judges and sabotage the proceedings in Ecuador."
Previously, it was reported that Guerra had virtually no funds in his bank account when Chevron lawyer Andres Rivero and Chevron investigator Yohi Ackerman handed him $20,000 in cash out of a backpack in exchange for his cooperation. Ultimately, Chevron lawyer Randy Mastro of GDC personally negotiated witness payments to Guerra in Chicago at exactly the same time the firm was working with him on a sworn affidavit that claimed the plaintiffs bribed the trial judge – an allegation since disproven by forensic evidence and other corroborating facts provided by Guerra that undermine his original story.
Guerra also testified "I lied" about a supposed bribe offer from the villagers that federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan relied on when ruling in favor of Chevron in the company's RICO proceeding, which has been criticized as highly flawed and falling well below international standards of due process. More than 30 international law scholars from 11 countries have urged a federal appellate court to overturn Kaplan's ruling, saying it violates international law. Numerous U.S. civil society organizations, including Amnesty International and Amazon Watch, also have filed a court brief urging that the Kaplan decision be tossed.
Guerra also admitted during the arbitration proceeding that he lied about key evidence that Kaplan found "corroborated" the claim that the trial judgment was written by the plaintiffs. Guerra said shipping records from a domestic airline that showed documents being sent from him to the trial judge had nothing to do with the Chevron pollution case, directly contradicting his prior testimony before Kaplan.
Steven Donziger, a longtime U.S. legal advisor to the affected communities who was a target of Chevron's RICO case, criticized Chevron and said he was preparing a formal complaint against the company and its lawyers.
"It is indisputable that Chevron and its lawyers paid a witness to try to frame me and my colleagues Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza in the RICO matter and then tried desperately to hide the fact the false narrative unraveled in the arbitration proceeding," said Donziger, who with his counsel recently sent a stinging preservation letter to Chevron and its law firms ordering them to cease the destruction of documents in anticipation of further litigation. Donziger last week also filed a legal brief with a federal appellate court explaining how Guerra's new admissions further undermine Chevron's RICO case.
Donziger said Chevron's lawyers have committed another "major ethical violation" by refusing for several months to disclose Guerra's admissions of lying made during the separate arbitration proceeding, despite the pendency of an appeal of the Kaplan RICO decision on precisely the same issues.
Other attorneys – including the highly respected Marco Simons of Earth Rights International – have suggested that Chevron lawyers Mastro and Avi Weitzman of GDC face potential criminal liability for knowingly presenting false testimony. The duo led the coaching of Guerra in the Gibson Dunn offices for 53 days before he testified before Judge Kaplan as to facts he later conceded were untrue, according to the transcripts.
For more background on how Guerra has repeatedly changed his story as new facts disprove his earlier versions, see this article published by The Huffington Post; this legal brief by lawyers for Donziger provides a detailed factual history of Chevron's misconduct in the litigation; and this sworn affidavit by Ecuadorian lawyer Juan Pablo Saenz documents some of Chevron's corrupt tactics.
This internal Chevron video, provided by a company whistleblower, also documents how the company had a strategy to hide pollution from the court during the Ecuador trial.