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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Saddam Terror Victims Take Aim at Chevron

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Hundreds of victims of Saddam Hussein asked a federal judge Wednesday to reject Chevron's motion to dismiss the class action that accuses it of financing Saddam's terrorism by illegally buying 78 million barrels of Iraqi oil.

Baruch Yehuda Ziv Brill and 328 other named plaintiffs claim that Chevron's illegal oil purchases from July 2000 to December 2002 put about $20 million into a slush fund that Saddam used for crimes against humanity and terrorism against the United States, Israel and other nations.

The plaintiffs, 18 of them U.S. citizens, say Chevron's violations of the Oil-for-Food Program enabled Saddam to send money to Hamas and other terrorists that committed 21 terrorist acts.

The Oct. 26, 2015 federal lawsuit claims that links between the oil sales and the violence are clear enough that Chevron should face liability under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Alien Tort Statute.

Lead plaintiff Brill, a U.S. citizen, was 17 years old in December 2001 when two suicide bombers and a car bomb exploded on a Jerusalem street, killing 10 people and wounding 150. Brill suffered multiple shrapnel wounds from nails that pierced his wrist and leg.

Each of the bombers' families received a $15,000 check, Brill says, "paid on behalf of Saddam Hussein with funds acquired, in part, from Chevron's payment of illegal kickbacks in violation of the OFP [Oil-for-Food Program]."

In court Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Donato questioned whether Chevron, which paid $27 million in disgorgement and penalties to settle the SEC's 2007 lawsuit over oil sales, could be blamed under the Anti-Terrorism Act for directly financing terrorism.

"How does an oil company that greases the palm of a corrupt regime to buy some oil fit this definition?" he asked plaintiffs' attorney, Maria Weitz.

Weitz said that Chevron gave material support to Saddam, who was known to engage in terrorism, giving the objective impression that Chevron supports terrorism.

Donato asked whether knowledge that Saddam was connected to terrorism was sufficient under the Anti-Terrorism Act, or whether the terrorism victims must show that Chevron intended that its payments be spent on terrorism.

"There isn't a single allegation of a direct transaction between Chevron and Saddam Hussein," the judge said.

He described the victims' complaint as "fairly conclusory" about the connection between Chevron and terrorism in Israel, and said, "the causality chain is very difficult to follow."

"Chevron did something with a bad person," he said, adding that the oil sales are not disputed.

Donato said he did not see how doing business with Saddam shows that Chevron plausibly knew that plaintiffs in Israel would be harmed by terrorism, but he asked whether ignoring Saddam's actions created liability for Chevron.

Chevron attorney Meir Feder said that even if the firm were accused of turning a blind eye to Saddam, in order to violate the Anti-Terrorism Act, "it's got to be an act of international terrorism that Chevron committed," Feder said.

If the victims tried to show that Chevron aided and abetted terrorism, Feder said, civil law does not have the sanctions for aiding and abetting that criminal law does.

"So, unless a company cuts a check directly to Hamas, it couldn't have liability?" Donato asked Feder.

"Well, yes," Feder replied.

At this early stage, Donato limited discussion to whether Brill's lawsuit should be dismissed now, or is complete enough to head to trial. He suggested that Weitz amend the complaint to show more direct causality between the payments and terrorism.

Maria Weitz is with Boucher LLP of Woodland Hills, and Meir Feder with Jones Day in New York.

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