MANHATTAN (CN) - An Ecuadorean judge whose testimony threatens a $19 billion judgment against Chevron must not be credited because he was paid off, the oil giant's opponents told a federal judge Wednesday.
Alberto Guerra is a star witness for Chevron in its bid to delegitimize the judgment ordered against it by a Lago Agrio court in 2011. That decision, signed by Judge Nicolas Zambrano, leaves Chevron on the hook for oil pollution that has devastated a rainforest community in Ecuador.
Though Chevron never actually drilled in Ecuador, it inherited the lawsuit with its 2001 acquisition of Texaco.
In addition to shifting blame for the disaster to the state-owned Petroecuador, Chevron has said Texaco's 1995 settlement with Ecuador absolved it of any liability.
It says the Lago Agrio court only found against it because Steven Donziger and other American attorneys for the Ecuadoreans took advantage of the Amazonian nation's corrupt judicial system by fudging scientific data and paying bribes.
These claims have taken shape in Chevron's federal RICO suit against Donziger and others before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan.
Guerra, who was the first of many judges in Lago Agrio to hear the environmental action brought by residents of the Amazonian village, testified last week that Zambrano essentially rubber-stamped a ruling written by the villagers' attorneys and edited by Guerra in exchange for payment.
Guerra also testified that he was paid $1,000 a month by Zambrano to ghostwrite orders for him, including the recusal order that put Zambrano back on the bench. Taking and giving bribes was common for Guerra both as a practicing attorney and a judge, he said.
Attorneys for Donziger and the other defendants have leapt upon Zambrano's admitted lapses in judicial ethics to have his testimony thrown out.
Chevron has maintained that it did not pay for Guerra's testimony, but that it is "compensating Guerra for the expense he continues to incur in order to testify - the expense of a forced relocation from his homeland where he and his family are no longer safe."
Guerra has put that figure at $48,000, covering Chevron's access to evidence from his personal computer, cellphones, phone records, bank records and credit card statements.
In his written statement, the former judge said that he and his family feared for their lives when they left Ecuador for the United States in January 2013, and that the Republic of Ecuador has retaliated against him with a "fabricated criminal complaint" for the crime of "incitement of separatism" for his role in the trial.
The defense has done little to assuage the concerns of Donziger and his cohorts.
"Even if Guerra were an upstanding citizen, his testimony would be so tainted by Chevron's payments and benefits that it would need to be thrown out," they wrote in a motion to strike. "For two days last week, the federal courthouse was blighted as Chevron used it as a stage for this man's objectively corrupt testimony, in which he admitted to offering and accepting between 20 and 40 bribes throughout his career as a lawyer and judge - once accepting as little as $200 to 'fix' a case. Now, Guerra wants this court to believe that hundreds of thousands of dollars Chevron has paid or promised to pay him are something other than yet another bribe. The Court should not allow this farcical witness to further taint these proceedings."