Fraud Claims Mount in Chevron-Texaco Ecuador Oil Pollution Trial

Published on
by
Environment News Service (ENS)

Fraud Claims Mount in Chevron-Texaco Ecuador Oil Pollution Trial

by

A lawsuit over oil contamination of Ecuadorian land by the oil giant Texaco, now owned by Chevron, has taken another nasty turn with accusations of fraudulent evidence being presented to the public and to the court by both sides in the long-running legal battle with $27 billion at stake. (Image: Chevron in Ecuador/Blog)

WASHINGTON, DC - A lawsuit over oil
contamination of Ecuadorian land by the oil giant Texaco, now owned by
Chevron, has taken another nasty turn with accusations of fraudulent
evidence being presented to the public and to the court by both sides
in the long-running legal battle with $27 billion at stake.

Filed by Ecuadorian Indians and farmers who claim to have suffered
illnesses and ecological damage to their land caused by oil
contamination, the lawsuit alleges that from 1964 to 1990, Texaco
deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic oil
production process waste into unlined pits in the rainforest rather
than injecting it underground.

In a series of revelations from recorded conversations released Tuesday
by a lawyer and investigator hired by the plaintiffs, longtime Chevron
contractor Diego Borja threatened to reveal that damaging evidence was
"cooked" by Chevron unless he received enough money for turning over
secret videotapes to Chevron executives in June 2009.

At one point on the tapes, Borja laughed and said, "Crime does pay."

In late August 2009, Chevron released videos it claimed exposed
a corruption scandal implicating the judge conducting the trial in the
case of Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco currently underway against the company
in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

But representatives of the plaintiffs call the corruption scandal
"contrived" and say it has "steadily unraveled with revelations about
the secret videotaping of the judge, and the relationship between
Chevron and the two men who made the videos - one a convicted felon and
drug trafficker, the other a long-time Chevron employee directly
involved with the company's legal defense."

Borja's disclosures are found in a report released today by
California lawyer and investigator Grant Fine. The report covers more
than six hours of audiotapes and 25 pages of online chats that were
given to the plaintiffs by Santiago Escobar, a childhood friend of
Borja's who made the recordings.

Escobar, an Ecuadoran now living in Canada who said he has
known Borja since they were teenagers, said he decided to give the
tapes to the plaintiffs because, "If I keep quiet about immoral acts,
then I become part of the immoral acts."

In one of the taped conversations with Escobar, Borja said Chevron had
"cooked" the evidence and, if the U.S. judge who sent the case to
Ecuador in the first place ever knew, he would "close [Chevron] down."

Borja said Chevron hired him to create four companies so his work
for the oil company would appear "independent." He suggested that the
companies were connected to a laboratory to test contamination samples.
Borja said the laboratory was not independent, but rather "belonged" to
Chevron.

The investigative report also revealed that Borja's wife, Sara
Portilla, worked for Chevron for four years and represented Severn
Trent Labs, a U.S. laboratory that Chevron described as an
"independent" lab to test its contamination samples. Test America, Inc.
purchased STL in 2007.

Court documents obtained by Fine cite Borja and Portilla as
representatives of Severn Trent Labs. They both signed chain of custody
documents with the Lago Agrio court that showed how the samples moved
from the contamination sites at issue to the testing lab.

Borja, who Chevron has cast as a Good Samaritan, also said that
Chevron is paying $6,000 a month in rent for his home with swimming
pool next to a golf course in a gated community near Chevron's
headquarters in San Ramon, California.

Borja said that Chevron is paying him the U.S. equivalent of the salary
he made in Ecuador and is also paying for a lease on an SUV and for
personal security.

On the audiotapes, Borja said he has enough evidence to ensure
a victory by the Amazon communities if Chevron failed to pay him what
he was promised. Before turning over the videotapes to Chevron, Borja
said he made sure Chevron "completely understood" he wanted payment for
them.

He also said he had incriminating evidence against the oil
company stored on his iPhone and in an undisclosed location in Ecuador
that he could use as leverage if Chevron betrayed him. Specifically,
Borja said he has a notarized document that contains a version of
events that would help the plaintiffs and that Portilla, his wife, is
aware of the information.

Representatives of the Amazon communities reacted with shock to the
audiotapes. "They prove at a minimum that Diego Borja is a real con
man," said Luis Yanza, president of the Amazon Defense Coalition, which
represents the plaintiffs. Yanza initially received the tapes from
Escobar.

Yanza called on Chevron to investigate and disclose the
information that Borja has stored on his iPhone and in Ecuador. He
called on authorities in Ecuador and the United States to examine the
Borja tapes and include them in their investigation of the videotaping
scandal implicating the judge.

For its part, Chevron claimed Monday that lawyers for the
plaintiffs "submitted fraudulent reports" to the Ecuadorian court
claiming dangerous contamination was found at Amazon oil well sites.

The original technical expert for the plaintiffs told the court
in sworn testimony last week that reports associated with inspections
of the Sacha 94 and Shushufindi 48 well sites were submitted in his
name without his knowledge or consent.

Charles Calmbacher, PhD, a U.S. biologist and industrial
hygienist who was the first expert appointed on behalf of the
plaintiffs in the litigation said he had never concluded the sites
posed a risk to human health or the environment and that his opinions
were known to the plaintiffs' legal and technical teams in Ecuador.

"Nevertheless," Chevron said in a statement, "the plaintiffs' lawyers
submitted reports contradictory to Dr. Calmbacher's conclusions,
fraudulently using his signature months after he ceased his
participation in the case."

"Their own expert has testified that two of the plaintiffs'
earliest reports are fraudulent, confirming that the trial in Ecuador
has been tainted from the outset," said Hewitt Pate, Chevron vice
president and general counsel.

"Chevron will petition the Lago Agrio court to strike the plaintiffs'
false Sacha 94 and Shushufindi 48 reports and call on authorities to
investigate the misconduct," said Pate.

In his March 29 deposition ordered by a U.S. federal court, Dr.
Calmbacher said he sent signed signature pages and initialized blank
pages to the plaintiffs' legal team by overnight courier in late 2004
for the submission of reports he thought would contain his true
findings.

Dr. Calmbacher also testified that the plaintiffs' lawyers never
informed him that the Lago Agrio court had ordered him to answer
questions on the reports after they were submitted under his signature
in 2005.

Representatives for the plaintiffs expressed surprise at
Calmbacher's statements and said there had been no attempt to falsify
reports.

Karen Hinton, spokeswoman for the Amazon Defense Coalition told
the "San Francisco Chronicle," newspaper on Monday that Calmbacher had
been working closely with the plaintiffs' legal team and would have
seen any reports submitted with his name.

"While we take Dr. Charles Calmbacher's statements about the
reports seriously, we believe his recollection almost six years after
the fact is inaccurate," she said.

Chevron claims that the lawsuit is baseless and tainted by
scores of irregularities and fraud. The company last September filed a
demand for arbitration with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The
Hague asserting that Ecuador's handling of the Lago Agrio litigation
amounts to a breach of the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty.

Lago Agrio court appointee Richard Cabrera submitted a $27
billion damage assessment against Chevron, which the company now says
also is tainted because it is based in part on "fabricated findings" in
fraudulent reports submitted under Dr. Calmbacher's signature.

The Amazon Defense Coalition argues that the Chevron-Texaco
case strengthens the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian state in that the
plaintiffs seek to impose national law above powerful foreign interests
that ignore it.

The Coalition says in a statement on its website, "Supporting the
Chevron case is to defend Ecuador's right as a state, and demonstrates
that the effective exercise of constitutional rights, such as the right
to an uncontaminated environment, cannot be blocked by contract, law,
or any act of government, as any government act is subject to legal
principles."

Click here to read the report on the Borja recordings released by lawyer Grant Fine.

Share This Article

More in: