MANHATTAN (CN) - In her final few months at the State Department, Hillary Clinton blended into a wall of flag drapery in Singapore and gave a shout-out to the big corporations of America.
"We're proud to go to bat for the Boeings and Chevrons and General Motors and so many others," Clinton told her audience in the fall of 2012.
At the time, Chevron had great need of a strong batting arm on the international field. The oil giant has been found responsible for an environmental disaster in the tropical northeast of Ecuador.
Lago Agrio, the city where the $9.8 billion verdict for a group of Ecuadorean villagers came down, demonstrates ties to the oil companies just with its name, as a translation of Sour Lake, the Texas base for Texaco, which Chevron acquired over a decade ago.
The long and winding road of the Lago Agrio litigation before and since that judgment turns on fundamental notions of law on international enforcement of foreign judgments, collateral attacks on those judgments, and the reach and power of U.S. courts. Along that path, it has been shadowed by the more obscure intrigues of politics and money.
As Chevron fought liability in U.S. and foreign arenas, the historically Republican political donor also began contributing millions of dollars to State Department projects in a Democratic administration. With Clinton at the State Department's helm, from 2009 through early 2013, a number of initiatives her agency advanced received multimillion-dollar contributions from Chevron.
For years before and after her tenure, the State Department published human rights reports that criticize the Ecuadorean justice system as susceptible to corruption. The distinguishing feature of the reports during Clinton's tenure is the advocacy in favor of Chevron through direct references to its legal fight, within the criticism of Ecuador's legal system.
Those reports then came in handy when Chevron went into federal court in New York and successfully attacked the Lago Agrio award.
In a ruling last year, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan relied in part on the reports to find that the Ecuadorean judgment was obtained by "corrupt means." He also ordered, through a trust and an injunction, that any proceeds from the massive award be returned to Chevron.
This order puts a legal roadblock in front of any effort to collect on the Lago Agrio judgment.
Kaplan's 485-page decision is currently awaiting a ruling from the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The principal issues on appeal are whether the lower court judge overreached the limits of his power, and whether international comity requires respect for the foreign court's ruling.
Going back to Clinton's tenure at the State Department, Chevron was engaged in an intense round of government lobbying during that period. As reported by the Washington Examiner, the oil company's lobbying expenditures hit a $20.8 million peak in 2009 when Clinton became secretary.
At that point, the Lago Agrio case was 6 years old, and during the remaining years of Clinton's time at the State Department, Chevron was to pour more than $13 million into State Department projects. That spending was accompanied by large gifts to the Clinton Global Initiative, a charity run by the Clinton Foundation.