Chevron Accuses Amazon Plaintiffs of Extortion

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 10:32 AM EST

I reported recently that Chevron has been trying some interesting tactics in what appear to be the final weeks of the court case over contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The company has alleged that the signatures of some of the plaintiffs in the case were forged, thereby making the case illegitimate. Last week the company filed a suit against the plaintiffs in New York accusing them of racketeering—and in it named the very individual Ecuadorian plaintiffs that they previously claimed weren't legit.

Here's a copy of the complaint that Chevron filed in the Southern District of New York on Feb. 1, which names the lawyers as well as 47 plaintiffs in the case as defendants in the counter suit. The plaintiffs have accused the company of failing to address the toxic pollution left behind in the Amazon after decades of oil drilling there by Texaco, a company that Chevron later acquired. The court case is drawing to a close in Ecuador, and Chevron could be on the hook for billions in damages if the judge rules in against the company.

Chevron's new suit seeks to prosecute the plaintiffs under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which is  intended to deal with organized crime—you know, like the Mafia. It accuses the plaintiffs (who are mostly indigenous Ecuadorians living in the Amazon) their lawyers, environmental consultants involved in the case, and environmental groups that have advocated for the plaintiffs of trying to "extort, defraud, and otherwise tortiously injure" Chevron.

The legal dispute over the Amazon case has dragged on for almost two decades now. It began in US courts but was moved to Ecuador at the behest of Chevron. But since then, the company has sought to have it dismissed there as well. In addition to this latest suit, Chevron has also sought the raw footage of a documentary filmmaker that the argue will prove malfeasance on the plaintiffs' part.

The plaintiffs are seeking $113 billion in compensation in the case. In response to the RICO suit, they have accused Chevron of trying to both intimidate the plaintiffs and avoid the question at hand in the case, which is whether the company is responsible for the contamination in the Amazon. "Irrefutable scientific truth will triumph over Chevron's intimidation tactics and desperation," said Pablo Fajardo, the lead attorney in Ecuador handling the case for the plaintiffs, in a statement this week. "We will not be frightened by corporate bullying … Chevron is trying to turn the victims of its own unlawful misconduct into criminals."

It appears Chevron may be gearing up for a loss in Ecuadoran courts in this case. Because the company does not have assets in Ecuador at this point, any judgment against them would have to be enforced in a country where the company does have assets, like the US. They appear to be building a legal case here to prevent that from happening should the judge in Ecuador rule against them.

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