(CN) - As the Amazon rainforest transitioned to its dry season, three international arbitrators investigating how Ecuadorean courts handled multibillion-dollar environmental litigation against Chevron sojourned into the oil-contaminated jungle.
The three-day journey took place between June 7 and 9, joined by lawyers and scientists retained by Chevron and the Ecuadorean government. Though organized in secret, a Courthouse News request led the arbitration panel to produce transcripts of its hearings.
Through torrential rain and tropical heat, representatives of Ecuador led the group to residential farmlands where villagers grow corn, papaya, cacao and other produce - sprouting up either from or near pools of petroleum - all documented in the transcripts.
The sessions were recorded on video, but no visual records of the proceedings have been publicly released. A scientific firm retained by Ecuador submitted a 136-page document to the tribunal, however, containing photographs of how the same sites looked years ago.
To say the least, these were unusual proceedings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is based in the far more temperate city of The Hague, in the Netherlands.
A transcript of a June 9 presentation, at a well site in Lago Agrio, has the words "rooster crows" in parentheses to note an interruption during both the opening argument delivered by Chevron's attorney and the closing argument by Ecuador's.
The environs also forced the leader of the tribunal, V.V. Veeder, to improvise court procedures on occasion.
Responding to objections by the parties, Veeder quipped at one point that the panel "will go to our retiring room in the jungle and come back."
Veeder and his colleagues have convened to decide whether Ecuador's judiciary denied justice to Chevron by saddling the oil giant with $9.5 billion in liability.
Three levels of Ecuador's courts have upheld the decision, but a federal judge in New York found that the judgment was "procured by corrupt means." That U.S. ruling is under appeal at the Second Circuit.
Chevron initiated both the U.S. proceedings and the international arbitration proceedings, the latter of which seek to have the government of Ecuador cover the $9.5 billion verdict its judiciary is holding over Chevron.
While the New York court shut out all of the environmental evidence, the international tribunal is probing both Chevron's fraud allegations and the underlying pollution. Planning for the rainforest occurred during closed-door hearings for the evidence-collection phase that the panel conducted between April and May.
Veeder is quoted in the transcript as saying that the D.C. hearings concluded the evidence-collection phase of trial.
"The evidence is in, and we're here to understand that evidence," Veeder said.
On the first day of the rainforest hearing, at an oilfield called Shushufindi-34, Ecuador's attorney general Diego Garcia Carrion emphasized why his country pushed for the visit to happen, over Chevron's objections.
Carrion called the inspections "critical part of the arbitration and, for Ecuador, an essential element of our case."