QUITO – A group representing some 30,000 Indians and other inhabitants of Ecuador’s Amazon region who are affected by oil pollution have requested that the International Criminal Court in The Hague open a criminal investigation of Chevron Chairman and CEO John Watson and other high-level company officers.
Pablo Fajardo, chief lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the Amazon Defense Front filed the complaint on Thursday over those executives’ role in obstructing a court-mandated clean-up of contamination stemming from decades-old oil operations by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.
In 2011, a court in the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon province of Sucumbios ruled in favor of the Amazon Defense Front, finding that Texaco dumped millions of gallons of crude residue and toxic waste water in the rainforest between 1964 and the early 1990s and thereby spoiled the lands and damaged the health of the local population.
Ecuador’s National Court of Justice upheld the verdict late last year, although it cut the penalty imposed by a lower tribunal in half to $9.5 billion.
Fajardo says this latest complaint was filed due to Chevron’s persistent refusal to abide by those court decisions.
The Ecuadorian plaintiffs have sought to enforce the judgment in countries including Argentina, Canada and Brazil by asking courts in those nations to seize Chevron’s assets.
Fajardo told Efe that Watson was the driving force behind the Chevron-Texaco merger in 2001 when he was Chevron’s chief financial officer and knew “first-hand” about the pollution but hid that information from the company’s shareholders.
Chevron responded quickly, saying in a statement Thursday afternoon that the request for a criminal investigation of Watson was an attempt to distract attention from the fact that the court rulings against the company in Ecuador lack merit and are the result of an unprecedented fraud.
The oil supermajor’s spokesman, James Craig, recalled that a federal court in New York earlier this year found that the Ecuadorian judgment was the product of fraud and racketeering activity.
Chevron says on its Web site that Ecuadorian state oil company Petroecuador should be the target of local communities’ legal action.
It notes that Texaco ceased operating in Ecuador in 1992 and that Petroecuador has been “the sole and exclusive owner and operator of greatly expanded operations in the area from (that year) to the present.”
The pollution case was initially filed against Texaco in New York in 1993, but after inheriting the lawsuit Chevron succeeded in having it moved from the United States to Ecuador in 2003, four years before President Rafael Correa came to power amid voter anger at corruption and traditional politicians.
Chevron, however, later said the case had become politicized under the leftist Correa and that it could not receive a fair trial.
Although the oil company maintains that Texaco was cleared of any liability for damages after performing remediation work in the mid-1990s, plaintiffs say that 1998 agreement with the Ecuadorian government of the time did not release it from third-party claims and that Chevron is reneging on its pledge to abide by whatever decision was handed down by the Ecuadorian courts.