MANHATTAN (CN) - A consultant that once supported a $19 billion judgment against Chevron for oil contamination in Ecuador disavowed that position in court Friday.
Texaco spent nearly four decades, between 1964 and 1992, exploring, drilling and exporting petroleum from the Amazonian rainforest in Ecuador, and another decade fighting a lawsuit in New York over the environmental toll of its work in the Amazon.
Chevron inherited that lawsuit by acquiring Texaco in 2001, eventually convincing a U.S. court to let it try the case in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, where the drilling occurred.
Though Chevron achieved that maneuver by endorsing the Ecuadorean judiciary as a capable arbiter, it changed its tune and decried the system as a den of corruption as the Lago Agrio court prepared to enter the multibillion verdict against it in 2011.
Days before the Amazonian court ruled, Chevron painted itself in a Manhattan lawsuit as the victim of an extortionate "shakedown," orchestrated by a cadre of unethical lawyers and contractors who cooked data and bribed judges.
Early this year, the first Ecuadorean judge to hear the Lago Agrio case, Alberto Guerra, told the New York court that lawyers for the rainforest residents paid him to ghostwrite the verdict against Chevron. His successor, Judge Nicolas Zambrano, supposedly signed off on that judgment.
Advocates for the Ecuadoreans have attacked Guerra's credibility by noting that he signed a contract with Chevron for at least $326,000, ostensibly for his protection. Zambrano has also denied Guerra's claims.
On Friday, a top executive and managing scientist for Stratus Consulting stepped forward to repudiate the Boulder, Colo.-based firm's studies that tie Chevron to the ecological and public health disaster in Ecuador.
The firm's executive vice president Douglas Beltman wrote in a nearly 100-page sworn declaration: "Stratus is not aware of any scientific evidence that people in the former concession area are drinking water contaminated with petroleum."
A paragraph later, he added, "I am not aware of any scientific data that shows than any adverse health effects are caused by contamination from petroleum operations in the Oriente."
Beltman also repudiated his interview with the CBS news program "60 Minutes," which helped drum up sympathy for the indigenous Ecuadoreans battling Chevron.
He and his colleague, managing scientist Ann Maest, end their declarations with the sentence, "I deeply regret that I allowed myself to be used in the Lago Agrio litigation in the way that I was, as detailed throughout this declaration."
Both documents were filed Friday to settle claims Chevron filed against them under federal anti-racketeering law.
Chevron trumpeted the declarations in a reply memorandum supporting its summary judgment motion. Spokesman Kent Robertson called the declarations "a devastating condemnation of Steven Donziger and his co-counsel," the advocates behind the case in Lago Agrio.
The stunning reversal comes a few months after Stratus moved to file defamation counterclaims against Chevron, alleging an "extrajudicial campaign of malicious defamation" seeking "to tortuously destroy Stratus (and the livelihood of its employees)."
The motion, filed in December and amended in February, said that Chevron ran a video attacking Stratus on its website and pressured the Portland Harbor Trustee Council to drop the firm as a potential contractor at a superfund site.
Lawyers for the Ecuadoreans claim that Stratus buckled under pressure.
"Chevron gets testimony two ways: they pay for it or they intimidate people until they give in," lawyer Craig Smyser said in a statement. "Here, we are sorry to say, Chevron bullied Stratus until Stratus had no choice but to succumb: the firm was faced with financial extinction after Chevron engaged in the defamation of Stratus to agencies Stratus did business with - all of which is set out in Stratus' suit against Chevron."
Smyser added that he was "confident" that Beltman would reverse himself once again about the CBS interview if the racketeering claims in New York go to trial, noting the executive would be confronted with his earlier sworn testimony.
Beltman's declaration from today states: "Video and still imagery shown during this 60 Minutes segment reflected Petroecuador rather than TexPet [Texaco] operations."
Smyser said Beltman "testified under oath in this court" that an oil pit shown in the segment was a "well site operated by Texaco. It was not operated by Petroecuador so it was shut down."
A trial over Chevron's allegations is slated for Oct. 15.
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