Chevron Calls Star Witness: A Bribe-Taking Former Judge


Chevron Calls Star Witness: A Bribe-Taking Former Judge

Former Ecuadorean judge Alberto Guerra leaves the federal court in New York, on Oct. 22

Photograph by Eric Thayer/Landov

Former Ecuadorean judge Alberto Guerra leaves the federal court in New York, on Oct. 22

Picture this courtroom drama: With $19 billion at stake, Chevron’s (CVX) lawyers call to the stand a bribe-taking former judge to describe how he drafted phony rulings in a major pollution case. Chevron admits that, quite apart from his earlier graft, the company has paid the disgraced ex-jurist tens of thousands of dollars in a deal for his testimony. And still, the guy sounds pretty believable—at least under friendly questioning.

The odd scene—part John Grisham, part Gabriel García Márquez—unfolded yesterday in federal court in New York. Chevron is suing a plaintiffs’ attorney who won a $19 billion oil-contamination verdict against the oil company in Ecuador. In a bid to undermine that potentially expensive judgment, Chevron has accused the attorney, New York-based Steven Donziger, of masterminding an elaborate extortionate conspiracy. Central to the alleged plot is one Alberto Guerra, a former Ecuadorian judge who is now cooperating with the company and testifying about how he helped Donziger fix the 2011 pollution verdict.

Donziger denies wrongdoing. Needless to say, he also questions Guerra’s credibility. In court, Donziger glared silently as the diminutive Ecuadorian spoke.

In an e-mail sent late yesterday, Donziger’s spokesman, Chris Gowen, noted that since the trial began Oct. 15, Chevron has presented a series of well-paid expert witnesses to describe Donziger’s misconduct. Gowen called Guerra “the most extravagant extortionist of them all.”

Guerra acknowledges taking tens of thousands of dollars from Chevron. Citing concerns about his safety, the company has relocated his extended family from Ecuador to the U.S. and paid their living expenses. Guerra admits that as a lawyer and judge in Ecuador, he collected and accepted bribes. He lost his judgeship in 2008 amid allegations of improper conduct.

While on the stand, Guerra told his sordid tale in a calm, convincing way. Dressed neatly in a light-gray business suit, he spoke without hesitation in Spanish. Via a translator, he matter-of-factly described an Ecuadorian court system so rife with corruption that his own felonious behavior sounded merely routine.

Asked at one point by Chevron’s lead lawyer, Randy Mastro, why the plaintiffs did not always prevail in the bought-and-paid-for rulings Guerra ghostwrote for a fellow judge, Guerra responded evenly: “It would seem much too obvious.” He added: “That would have looked suspicious, and the idea was for it not to look suspicious.”

In late 2003, Guerra presided over the initial stages of a lawsuit against Chevron that Donziger engineered on behalf of thousands of rain-forest residents who allege massive harm from oil contamination. Later, supervision of the case shifted to other judges. Guerra testified that he essentially went into business with one of those subsequent judges, ghostwriting interim rulings that generally—although not always—favored Donziger’s clients. Guerra said that he received monthly $1,000 cash payments from Donziger’s legal team in Ecuador.

Guerra also asserted under oath that he and the other judge, Nicolas Zambrano, offered their services to both Chevron and the Donziger team. Chevron turned them down, but Donziger agreed to play ball, according to Guerra.

In testimony expected to continue today, Guerra will elaborate on the culmination of all of this alleged chicanery—Zambrano’s supposed agreement to allow Donziger’s team to draft the $19 billion judgment in exchange for a promise of $500,000 to be paid to Zambrano out of the plaintiffs’ recovery. Donziger has denied that part of the story, too.

Zambrano, who has also been fired as a judge under a cloud of alleged corruption related to drug trafficking, has likewise denied wrongdoing. Donziger’s side has said they will put Zambrano on the stand in New York to refute his former colleague Guerra. Don’t hold your breath, though. Zambrano failed to show for an earlier-scheduled deposition, and much mystery surrounds his whereabouts and intentions.

Once Guerra has finished laying out his version of how Chevron ended up facing a $19 billion legal bill in Ecuador—one the company vows it will never pay—Donziger’s lawyers will have an opportunity to cross-examine him. That will doubtless be a long and unfriendly exchange. Guerra’s equanimity and credibility will both be put to the test.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek



A former Ecuadorean judge who presided over a pollution case against Chevron Corp. (CVX) testified that he and a colleague who issued a $19 billion judgment against the company in the environmental lawsuit were bribed.

The judge, Alberto Guerra, took the stand yesterday in Manhattan federal court during the trial in a racketeering suit in which Chevron alleged that the verdict in Ecuador was procured through fraud.

Guerra has said in a declaration filed with the court that he was paid thousands of dollars by lawyers for the plaintiffs to steer the case in their favor. Another former Ecuadorean judge who issued the $19 billion ruling, Nicolas Zambrano, was promised $500,000 from the proceeds, Guerra said in the November filing. Guerra said he also routinely ghost wrote judgments for Zambrano and was paid for those services.

“It could not seem as though all of the orders were being issued for the benefit of the plaintiffs,” he said through an interpreter in court yesterday, explaining why some of the rulings he was involved with favored Chevron. “The idea was to not have it look suspicious.”

Guerra said in court that he was given the bribes sometimes in the form of deposits in his bank account and other times in envelopes filled with $20 and $50 bills.

Zambrano has denied that he was bribed by the plaintiffs and that Guerra or the plaintiffs were involved in writing his decisions. He may testify later on behalf of lawyers for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, who sued over pollution in the Amazon rainforest, the attorneys said.


Chevron, the second-largest U.S.-based energy firm, claims that lawyers for the plaintiffs, led by Manhattan attorney Steven Donziger, engaged in a scheme to extort money from the company during a 20-year legal battle over pollution in an Ecuador oil concession.

The company is seeking an order from U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan barring lawyers for the Ecuadoreans from trying to enforce the 2011 pollution judgment in countries where Chevron has assets.

Central to the “scheme to defraud and extort Chevron is the fact that Ecuador’s judiciary has developed systemic weaknesses and corruption,” the San Ramon, California-based company said in a complaint filed in February 2011. “The conspirators are aware of this fact, and have sought to exploit it.”

The company alleges Donziger and his associates “lobbied” judges by meeting with them outside of court and intimidated them by inciting protests. Donziger claims his tactics were lawful and that Chevron engaged in similar activities.

GUERRA’S $326,000

Donziger claims that Chevron has agreed to pay Guerra at least $326,000 through 2015 for cooperation and favorable testimony. Guerra said in his November declaration that the company paid him for computer equipment and for gathering evidence useful to the case and not for the testimony.

In the environmental case, Donziger and other lawyers for indigenous people in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region sought damages for Texaco Inc.’s alleged dumping of toxic drilling wastes from 1964 until about 1992 that polluted about 1,500 square miles (3,885 square kilometers). The lawsuit continued against Chevron when it acquired Texaco in 2001.


Chevron contends that state-owned Petroecuador, a former Texaco joint-venture partner, is responsible for most of the pollution. Texaco paid $40 million to clean up its share and was released from liability under agreements with Ecuador in 1995 and 1998, Chevron said. An international arbitration tribunal affirmed the accords’ validity in September.

Randy Mastro, a lawyer for Chevron, told the judge in opening arguments in the nonjury trial on Oct. 15 that Donziger could get as much as $1.2 billion if the judgment is collected in full.

During the openings, Richard Friedman, a lawyer for Donziger, denied his client had engaged in any bribery or other wrongdoing and instead compared him to civil rights leaders.

“Like Thurgood Marshall, like Ralph Nader, like a host of human rights lawyers before him, Mr. Donziger understood you need legal and social change,” Friedman told the judge.

The racketeering case is Chevron Corp. v. Donziger, 11-cv-00691, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The appeals court case is In Re Naranjo, 13-00772, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).

Source: Bloomberg

Chevron Launches New Effort to Deny Ecuadorians and Donziger a Fair Trial In RICO Case

NEW YORK, Oct. 03 /CSRwire/ – Chevron is now trying to bar any and all evidence of environmental contamination in Ecuador from its RICO case as part of a strategy to deny rainforest villagers and their New York attorney Steven Donziger a fair trial, according to recent court filings.

The latest development comes on top of Chevron’s decision earlier this week to drop $60 billion in damages claims against Donziger just so it could avoid a jury in the case, which is scheduled for trial Oct. 15 in New York federal court.  Donziger and his clients are due to file a motion tomorrow explaining why the law still requires a jury rather than allowing a bench trial before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who has a documented history of bias in favor of Chevron.

Chevron’s latest moves are yet another sign it is running from its own RICO case on the eve of trial and trying to choreograph a show for the public, said Christopher Gowen, a spokesman for Donziger and the Ecuadorians, Hugo Camacho and Javier Piaguaje.


“Chevron obviously is so afraid of its own wrongdoing that it wants to have an environmental trial without talking about the environment,”, continued Gowen. “That’s what corporate polluters do when they get caught with their pants down.”

Chevron’s attempts to restrict evidence are “stunning in breadth and scope” and show the oil giant is seeking a quick proceeding where it can use the result to try to block international enforcement of the Ecuador judgment even if due process rights get trampled in the process, said Gowen.

Chevron has asked Judge Kaplan to bar Donziger and the Ecuadorians from using any of the overwhelming scientific evidence that proved the company’s guilt when it was found liable by the Ecuador court for $19 billion in damages.  Such evidence is absolutely necessary to prove the judgment is valid and not obtained by fraud as Chevron alleges, said Gowen.

Chevron also has asked Judge Kaplan to bar Donziger and the Ecuadorians from presenting evidence related to “environmental and human conditions” in the affected area of Ecuador’s rainforest and to exclude the use of any scientific studies related to the contamination.  The Ecuador court relied on such studies as well as tens of thousands of chemical sampling results to find Chevron liable in the case.

There are also numerous independent health studies of the area that show high rates of cancer and other oil-related diseases.  Under Chevron’s plan, Kaplan would exclude any mention of the studies.

Those proposed restrictions are simply the tip of the iceberg, said Gowen.

In various court filings, Chevron also has asked Judge Kaplan to bar Donziger and the Ecuadorians from presenting evidence of:

**Chevron’s repeated contacts with high-level government officials in Ecuador to try to illegally quash the case;

**Chevron’s many private contacts with Ecuadorian judges and independent court experts;

**Chevron internal videos showing company technical experts in Ecuador laughing at the pollution while discussing ways to hide it from the court;

**Personal testimony from individuals about pollution and health impacts that was relied on by the Ecuador court;

**Chevron’s sting operation against an Ecuador judge where the company tried to orchestrate a fake bribery scandal to derail the trial;

**Chevron’s creation of dummy companies to hide its control of a supposedly independent laboratory that processed soil samples for the court;

**Evidence that the legal team for the rainforest communities received death threats and were harassed during the trial;

**Evidence of Chevron’s surveillance of Donziger, Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo, and others;

**Evidence of Chevron’s lobbying contacts in the U.S. designed to pressure Ecuador’s government to quash the case.

“If just one of these outrageous requests by Chevron is granted by Judge Kaplan, the notion of a fair trial is dead,” said Gowen.

Donziger has repeatedly said he cannot get a fair trial before Judge Kaplan, who already ruled any evidence of environmental contamination would not be elicited during the discovery phase of the case.  John Keker, Donziger’s former counsel, withdrew from the case last May after concluding that Judge Kaplan has shown nothing but “implacable hostility” toward his client, who has worked for his Ecuadorian communities since 1993.

The lead lawyer for the rainforest communities in Ecuador, Pablo Fajardo, has refused to appear before the New York court because it has no jurisdiction over citizens in a foreign country.

“We thoroughly reject Chevron’s blatant attempt to rig the trial before Judge Kaplan by barring the decades of accumulated evidence of its environmental crimes, fraud, and misconduct in Ecuador,” said Fajardo, who represents 80 indigenous and farmer communities in the rainforest who live in the area where Chevron (operating under the Texaco brand) admitted to dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste when it operated there from 1964 to 1992.

Gowen also criticized Judge Kaplan.

“The most fundamental principle in our nation’s Constitution is the ability of all defendants to get a fair trial without a judge favoring one side,” he said.

“To bar the Ecuadorian victims and Steven Donziger from introducing evidence of the massive environmental damage in Ecuador during a trial about that very subject flies in the face of this sacred American principle,” Gowen added.

Gowen said Judge Kaplan should recuse himself should he grant Chevron’s request for a non-jury trial to avoid actual bias and the appearance of bias.  Kaplan has called the Ecuadorians the “so-called” plaintiffs and said the litigation in Ecuador was a “giant game” invented by American lawyers “to fix the balance of payments deficit” of the United States.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals already reversed Judge Kaplan in an earlier phase of the case when the judge had issued an illegal injunction purporting to block the Ecuadorians from enforcing their judgment against Chevron outside the U.S

Copies of Chevron’s court filings where it is seeking to bar the evidence can be foundhere.  A summary of the overwhelming evidence of Chevron’s contamination can be readhere, while a video summary of the case can be seen here.

In the end, Chevron’s RICO action in New York has little to do with enforcement actions targeting billions of dollars of Chevron assets currently pending in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.  All three of those actions are pending, with more such actions to be filed in other jurisdictions, said Fajardo.

Source: CSR wire


Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras

Editorial Committee

David Dunham

Arno Ambrosius

Gustavo López Ospina

Mariana Almeida

Frank Brouwer

Pieter Jan Brouwer

Assistant: Emilia Romero

SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer. 



~ by FSVSF Admin on 25 October, 2013.

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