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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ecuadorean Judge Who Nailed Chevron|for Billions Gets the Boot

MANHATTAN (CN) - Chevron says the recent dismissal of a judge suspected of corruption in Ecuador has greased the wheels in its efforts to discredit an oil-contamination judgment as a fraud.

Media outlets reported from Quito, Ecuador, on Wednesday that nation's Board of Judges passed a resolution to dismiss Judges Nicolas Zambrano and Leonardo Ordonez. The resolution states that the jurists "were either deceitful or grossly negligent in the 'inexcusable error' of not ordering preventive detention in October 2009 for a suspect caught with a half ton of cocaine," according to the Associated Press.

Last year, Zambrano found Chevron liable to the tune of $18.2 billion for devastating oil contamination in the Amazon, allegedly caused by decades of drilling from its Texaco subsidiary.

Anyone who believed that the decision would close the lid on the 18-year-old legal battle is still holding their breath. Chevron has long argued that the verdict represents the combined efforts of Ecuador's corrupt judicial system and an extortion plot by American attorneys.

Meanwhile representatives of the Ecuadoreans say that Chevron hand-picked the Lago Agrio, Ecuador, court venue, and that the oil giant has employed unscrupulous tactics to sway the case in its favor.

The recent charges against Zambrano strike an uncanny resemblance to the fate of his predecessor on the Chevron case.

In August 2008, Chevron publicized a video that it characterized as implicating then Presiding Judge Juan Nunez in $3 million bribery scheme. Chevron has claimed it received videos unsolicited.

While denying wrongdoing, Nunez stepped down from the case to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Some have questioned whether there was anything to the corruption hype. Summarizing hours of footage, The New York Times later reported, "No bribes were shown on the tapes."

U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges, who has since been expelled from Ecuador, explained in a cable to the State Department that the "tapes were recorded clandestinely by Diego Borja, an Ecuadorian who had performed work for Chevron as a logistics contractor, and Wayne Hansen, a U.S. citizen with no ties to Chevron."

Although Chevron has distanced itself from the cameramen, Courthouse News discovered emails that show Hansen contacted the company's investigator months before the release of the videos. These emails have since been sealed by the court.

Chevron has likewise not claimed a role in the new charges against Zambrano, attributing the judiciary investigation to a complaint filed by Ecuador's Organized Crime Prevention Unit.

Hewitt Pate, Chevron general counsel, said that Zambrano's allegedly corrupt activities align with his behavior while presiding over the oil case.

"Chevron has already shown through the plaintiffs' lawyers' own documents and film outtakes that Judge Zambrano's ruling against Chevron was ghostwritten by the plaintiffs' lawyers," Pate said in a statement. "Evidence also shows that the plaintiffs' representatives paid bribes to at least one court official through a secret bank account."

A spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans suing Chevron says Zambrano's dismissal would not affect the case.

"An appellate court of three judges reviewed the lower court's findings and upheld the judgment in its entirety, finding Chevron guilty of environmental crimes," spokeswoman Karen Hinton said. "It is now on appeal to Ecuador's national court."

Though Zambrano's dismissal does not necessarily promise relief for Chevron, it is another coup for the oil giant, which recently obtained favorable decisions in the case from an international arbitration panel and a U.S. federal judge.

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