The fighting in court at an epic environmental trial in Ecuador is getting really dirty, with both sides claiming fraud and dirty tricks.
Chevron is now claiming that the fingerprint signatures of mostly illiterate indigenous persons filed years ago with the court as part of the original lawsuit were forged and that therefore the 17-year trial should be nullified.
The Chevron forgery claim, which was rejected as “false and desperate” by the plaintiffs, is part of the company’s last-ditch scheme to derail an expected adverse judgment based on voluminous scientific evidence that it created the world’s worst oil disaster, said Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer on the case.
“This latest allegation demonstrates again that Chevron will stop at nothing to undermine the legitimate legal claims of indigenous persons fighting for their own survival in the face of Chevron’s violent and unlawful assault on their culture,” said Fajardo, who represents dozens of communities who charge the oil giant dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into their streams and rivers from 1964 to 1992 when it operated in Ecuador.
“The evidence at trial shows that Chevron has engaged in a pattern of unlawful, corrupt, and fraudulent activity in Ecuador over decades and that this activity has destroyed much of the rainforest and killed many of its inhabitants,” he said.
In responding to Chevron’s allegation that 20 of the 47 signatures on the lawsuit appear different than those on the individual’s national identity cards, Fajardo explained that most of the signatories on the lawsuit have no formal education and have signed via a fingerprint only a handful of documents in their entire lives. It should thus not be surprising that any two signatures a person makes over the course of an entire life would look different, but it does not suggest fraud as Chevron claims.
“Chevron’s allegation is an absolute insult to indigenous culture,” said Fajardo.
He said the named plaintiffs have signed additional documents providing a power of attorney to him at least twiceÂ since the lawsuit was filed in 2003, further proving that Chevron’s allegations have no basis.
The claim is based on a report by an American expert paid by Chevron, Gus R. Lesnevich, who maintains an office at the public airport in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and appears to have never traveled to Ecuador or met the indigenous plaintiffs.
Chevron faces a liability in Ecuador of up to $113 billion for creating what many experts consider the world’s worst oil-related contamination â€“ one that has persisted on land and in water for almost 50 years in an area where thousands of people live and depend on the natural environment for their survival. Chevron has admitted to dumping billions of gallons of toxic “produced water” into streams and rivers in the area to save on production costs.
The trial judge on Friday of last week closed the evidentiary phase after seven years of hard-fought litigation, clearing the way for a final decision in the coming months.
Chevron’s latest allegation was made by R. Hewitt Pate, the company’s General Counsel, in a press release issued on Monday. Pate â€“ a former Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice â€“ claimed the alleged forgery was suddenly discovered one business day after the judge closed the evidentiary period despite the fact Chevron had the signatures since May of 2003.
Pate is leading Chevron’s scheme to engage in unlawful conduct in Ecuador, said Fajardo. The scheme includes making illegal payments to local military officials to pressure the court on Chevron’s behalf, offering payment to a journalist to spy on the plaintiffs and bribes to a supposed government official, and the mounting of a sting operation against a former trial judge who was prepared to issue a ruling in the case, he said.
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