(CN) - During secret proceedings in Washington, a key witness in undermining the $9.5 billion judgment Chevron faces in Ecuador repudiated much of his explosive testimony, transcripts made public today show.
Since agreeing to testify for the oil giant, Judge Alberto Guerra's fortunes have changed, and so have Chevron's.
Roughly two years ago, Guerra took to the witness stand in a New York federal courtroom and swore that lawyers for rainforest villagers bribed him to ghostwrite a multibillion-dollar Ecuadorean court judgment against Chevron for oil contamination to the Amazon jungle.
About a year before he made a deal with Chevron, Guerra had little more than $100 to his name. He also owed tens of thousands of dollars in debt and could not afford to visit his children living in the United States.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan had warned early on in proceedings that he did not "assume that anyone's hands in this are clean," yet he credited Guerra's testimony last year in ruling that the Ecuadoreans obtained their award "by corrupt means."
The Ecuadoreans have long attacked Guerra, who has a contract with Chevron for various perks, including at least $326,000, an immigration attorney and a car, as a "paid-for" participant in the oil giant's self-styled witness-protection program.
Kaplan's decision conceded that "Guerra's credibility is not impeccable," but found that his account was "corroborated extensively by independent evidence."
Both that credibility and the corroborating evidence came under withering attack this year during closed-door proceedings before an international arbitration tribunal.
Though the hearings took place without press or public access at the World Bank in Washington on April 23 and 24, the tribunal agreed to release transcripts of the proceedings in response to a Courthouse News request that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press supported.
They show Guerra putting a new twist on an old saying. "Money talks, gold screams," Guerra said in a June 25, 2012, meeting with Chevron representatives - a meeting Chevron recorded.
Testifying about this comment at the arbitration hearing, Guerra said Chevron showed him a safe filled with money. He recounted Chevron's representatives telling him: "Look, look, look what's down there. We have $20,000 there."
He remembered replying: "Oh, OK, very well, very well."
Guerra said he had only $146 in his bank account a year earlier, and owed tens of thousands more to finish the construction of his house. He said he could not scrape money for airfare to visit his children in the United States.
Minutes from Guerra's meeting with Chevron that came to light during the tribunal proceedings showed that Chevron's lawyers hoped to find evidence that the Ecuadorean government had pressured the Guerra to rule against the company.
Guerra disappointed by saying that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's administration "never butted in" to the process, the transcript shows.
"These guys are idiots, but the truth, the truth, I attest, damn, they never got involved," Guerra added, referring to Correa's government.