Curtain Drawn on US Phase of Chevron-Ecuador Battle

In this file photo from a so-called “Toxic Tour” of the Amazon, Ecuadorean activist Donald Moncayo dips his gloved hand into oil from the soils of Lago Agrio 5, a site that Chevron said it remediated. (ADAM KLASFELD/CNS)

(CN) — Indigenous Ecuadoreans trying to collect a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for oil contamination to the Amazon rainforest will not find relief from the U.S. Supreme Court, which shot down their petition for certiorari Monday.

Dozens of the Ecuadorean villagers, representing a region of nearly 30,000 farmers and indigenous people, have fought for compensation to repair their polluted rainforest lands since 1993, the year after Chevron’s predecessor Texaco left their country.

In Ecuador, which Chevron insisted was the proper trial venue after it was first sued in New York, a provincial judge in Lago Agrio ordered Chevron to pay what experts called one of the world’s largest environmental judgments.

Chevron meanwhile has attacked the Ecuador case as a fraud for nearly a decade. Three years ago, the San Ramon, California, company obtained a verdict in New York that says the Ecuadorean judgment had been “procured by corrupt means.”

After the Second Circuit also sided with Chevron, affirming findings that the Ecuadoreans bribed an Ecuadorean judge to ghostwrite the Lago Agrio ruling, the Ecuadoreans petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari.

The case’s rejection Monday likely marks the U.S. judiciary’s final salvo in a three-continent-wide litigation that is now nearing its 25th year.

Steven Donziger, an American attorney who helped lead the Ecuadoreans’ lawsuit, condemned the result, saying the evidence undermining Chevron’s fraud allegations in other international courts will damage the reputation of U.S. law.

“The refusal by the Supreme Court to address the fact Chevron fabricated evidence to cover up its massive pollution in Ecuador is a grave mistake and a sad reflection on the U.S. judiciary in the eyes of the world,” Donziger said in a statement.

Donziger had been referring to evidence from the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that he contends vindicates him of fraud. In those proceedings, a key Chevron witness — whom it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — walked back damaging testimony against Donziger. Chevron’s ghostwriting allegations also took a hit from forensic-computer evidence that shows a running draft of the ruling on the hard drives of the judge who signed it.

Because this evidence came to light after the 2014 ruling in New York, though, the Second Circuit refused to consider it. The Supreme Court’s cert denial makes it likely that no U.S. court will.

For Chevron’s general counsel Hewitt Pate, the Supreme Court’s decision brings the case toward its “final conclusion.”

“The facts of the Ecuadorian judicial extortion scheme and the illegality of the plaintiffs’ lawyer misconduct have been finally and conclusively affirmed by the legal system of the United States,” Pate said.

The group Amazon Watch meanwhile called the victory lap premature.

“It is way too early for Chevron to celebrate,” the San Francisco-based nonprofit said in a statement. “Ultimately, Chevron will be forced by other jurisdictions to pay every last dollar of the judgment imposed on it for its criminal behavior in Ecuador.”

In The Hague, the Permanent Court of Arbitration has not yet issued a ruling on Chevron’s accusations that Ecuador’s courts denied them justice. The three-judge tribunal’s findings there could contradict those of the U.S. legal system.

A Canadian judge allowed the Ecuadoreans to pursue a trial against Chevron this past January, but also shielded a subsidiary from the corporate parent’s liabilities.

Donziger is hopeful of that process. “Chevron will be held accountable in Canada where courts have agreed to consider the overwhelming evidence Chevron bribed a witness and manufactured evidence to evade paying the Ecuador pollution judgment,” the lawyer said.

An appeal of that ruling will hit the Ontario Court of Appeals on Oct. 10.

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