Chevron has put U.S. lawyer Steven Donziger on the witness stand in a federal trial in New York City, accusing him of using bribery to secure a multi-billion dollar pollution judgment in Ecuador against the oil company.
Donziger and Chevron have been fighting for 20 years over pollution claims in Ecuador.
Chevron alleges in the federal lawsuit it filed against Donziger in 2011 that he won billions against Chevron for villagers over contamination of an oil field in northeastern Ecuador using fraud and bribery.
Donziger denies the allegations.
Ecuador’s highest court last week reduced the judgment against Chevron from $19 billion to $9.5 billion.
Donziger has an agreement with the villagers for legal fees that’s worth $600 million, even after the Ecuador court cut the award, Chevron’s lawyer Randy Mastro said.
Mastro is a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, where he specialized in organized crime and racketeering cases.
Among the spectators at the trial in Manhattan Monday was the singer Sting, who supports the villagers, Reuters said.
Chevron hasn’t had any assets in Ecuador since 2011, Reuters said. But the villagers have tried to enforce the court award against its assets in Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
D0nziger represented a group of Amazon residents who alleged that Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001, contaminated large areas of rain forest between 1964 and 1992 before ending its operations and leaving the country.
Chevron said on a company website it has never operated in Ecuador.
“Texaco Petroleum Co., which Chevron acquired in 2001, ceased operations in Ecuador in 1992, and then fully remediated its share of environmental impacts,” the company said.
Chevron has called the Ecuador judgment “illegitimate because of documented evidence of fraud and unethical action by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as well as the Ecuadorian government and judiciary. These fraudulent actions include the plaintiffs’ lawyers falsifying data in multiple instances and in the name of supposedly independent environmental experts; paying experts to ghostwrite exaggerated environmental-impact assessments; and bribing the judge who allowed the plaintiffs’ lawyers to write the actual judgment issued against Chevron.”
A Ecuador judge said he ghost-wrote the judgment against Chevron for another judge but denied taking bribes.
Chevron claims Texaco cleaned the site after ending operations and handing control of the field to state-controlled Petroecuador.
Chevron is suing Donziger under the U.S. RICO law — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It allows private parties to collect damages against criminal enterprises.
The RICO suit seeks to hold Donziger and others “accountable for fraud, extortion and other misconduct” in connection with the Ecuador litigation.
Chevron’s lawyer Mastro is trying to show that Donziger led a criminal enterprise intended to extort a huge settlement from the oil company.
Donziger denies the RICO allegations and said at the trial Monday he wasn’t in charge of the case.
“Chevron alleges that to shirk Ecuador’s duties, officials there conspired with Donziger to shift blame to an American company, taking advantage of a corrupt Ecuadorian judicial system,” Bloomberg reported.