Mudslinging Intensifies as Chevron|Assets Stay Chilled in Argentina

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Testimony from an Ecuadorean judge that he rigged an environmental trial against Chevron has not helped the oil giant unfreeze its Argentinian assets.
     In 2011, an Ecuadorean court ordered Chevron to pay an indigenous group $19 billion for oil contamination that it attributed to the Texaco subsidiary.
     Chevron called the judgment the product of bribery, extortion and corruption on the part of the lawyers for the Ecuadoreans. The company filed racketeering claims in the Southern District of New York and collected evidence from discovery actions in other jurisdictions across the United States.
     Litigation swelled across three continents with international arbitration in Europe, appeals in Ecuador and collections actions in Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
     Chevron has no assets in Ecuador for the rainforest residents to collect there.
     Back in New York, Chevron submitted an affidavit from an Ecuadorean judge as the missing piece to its extortion puzzle.
     Alberto Guerra, the first judge in Ecuador to hear the case, told the New York court that lawyers for the rainforest residents paid him to ghostwrite the verdict against Chevron for his successor, Judge Nicolas Zambrano.
     Chevron supplemented his statement with two cryptic emails between lawyers for the Ecuadoreans. They also have bank records that allegedly corroborate Guerra’s tale.
     In late 2009, lawyers for the rainforest residents sent two internal emails referring to paying a “puppeteer,” each dated within a one or two days of a $1,000 cash deposit into Guerra’s bank account.
     Chevron spokesperson Kent Robertson told Courthouse News that the company tried to learn the identity of the depositor by looking up an Ecuadorean identification number, known as a cedula number, on the deposit slip.
     Unlike a Social Security number, a cedula number is publicly recorded and searchable in Ecuador, Robertson said.
     Though he said the cedula numbers on two slips were “fakes,” Chevron purportedly linked one of their Ecuadorean adversaries to deposit slips for two other $1,000 payments earlier that year.
     The last four cedula digits on these slips correspond with Ximena Centeno, whose name appears on administrative support for the Ecuadoreans on a list marked “Confidential,” Robertson said.
     Chevron gained access to the once-privileged document during discovery.
     The name “Ximena” is also signed on the second deposit slip.
     Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans, denied the allegation and cast doubt on Chevron’s detective work.
     “First, no one working on behalf of the Ecuadoreans deposited money in Guerra’s bank account. Period,” she said. “Second, Ximena Centeno is not a lawyer. She worked for a few months as an assistant in the Quito office. Third, Ximena is a relatively common name in Ecuador.”
     Hinton also tried to discredit Guerra by pointing to Ecuadorean news reports that say he wrongly freed more than 30 criminals, including drug traffickers.
     His testimony smacks of a “Nixon-style dirty tricks campaign” financed by Chevron, Hinton said.
     “Alberto Guerra is a disgraced former Ecuadorean judge who is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Chevron to make false allegations about the Ecuador trial court judgment,” Hinton said. “This obligation is owed by Chevron to the indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador whose cultures have been decimated by the company’s greedy and reckless practice of discharging billions of gallons of toxic waste into the environment.”
     Guerra will collect at least $326,000 from Chevron, including $38,000 for his affidavit, two years of housing and living expenses at $12,000 a month, and undetermined legal and health insurance expenses.
     Robertson defended these expenditures as necessary to protect the safety of Guerra and his family.
     “We have been very transparent about this, unlike the plaintiffs’ secret arrangements with Guerra and Zambrano,” Robertson said.
     The agreement between Chevron and Guerra contains a provision that the parties could renegotiate after the first two years, if an independent assessment “finds substantial risk of a risk to Guerra’s safety and security.”
     As to the news reports about Guerra, Robertson noted that two other judges on the case, including Zambrano, had been assailed for freeing drug traffickers.
     “So if that is an offense that renders one’s credibility unreliable, what does that say about Zambrano and the judgment?” he asked.
     Guerra also claims in his affidavit that he offered to sway Zambrano in Chevron’s way in 2009, but that Chevron lawyer Alberto Racines shot him down.
     Though Chevron had not publicized it at the time, Racines signed a sworn declaration in October 2009 corroborating Guerra’s account of the offer.
     Around the time of the alleged offer, Chevron released videotapes that they claimed caught another judge, Juan Nunez, taking bribes.
     The New York Times reported, “No bribes were shown on the tapes,” after inspecting the footage.
     One of the cameramen, it later emerged, was a convicted drug felon; the other was a former Chevron contractor who, like Guerra, had accepted money for travel, housing and legal services.
     Hinton claims that contractor, Diego Borja, collected $2.2 million from Chevron.
     She also questioned why Chevron did not publicize Guerra’s attempt to corrupt Racines in 2009.
     “They had just done the Nunez tapes,” she said. “For them, it would have been a one-two punch.”
     Robertson explained that Chevron did not trumpet Racines’ allegations at the time because two of its lawyers were being “persecuted” by the Ecuadorean government in criminal cases that were ultimately dropped.
     “Simply put, nails that pop up in Ecuador get hammered back down. Hard,” Robertson said.
     Days after Guerra stepped forward, lawyers for the Ecuadoreans announced that an Argentinian appeals court affirmed an asset freeze of Chevron’s subsidiaries until the collections case there concludes.
     Chevron has not yet seen or been notified of the decision, Robertson said, adding that the company will pursue all legal remedies in Argentina.
     “Chevron’s view of the situation remains unchanged; the precautionary embargo is unfounded and based on a judicial fraud in Ecuador,” he said. “If the plaintiffs’ lawyers believed they had a legitimate judgment they would seek to enforce it in the United States, where Chevron Corporation resides.”
     Enrique Bruchou, the Argentinian lawyer representing the rainforest residents, estimated that Chevron’s subsidiaries had $2 billion in assets in that country when the Buenos Aires-based court handed down the freeze order in November.
     Hinton said Chevron doubled down on the bribery claims as courts are poised to rule on the multibillion-dollar collections judgment.
     “He’s giving them what they need because now what is happening is that there’s serious liability in Argentina,” she said. “This is real now.”

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