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Sunday, November 11, 2012
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Chevron in sticky stew

Faces $19b asset freeze order in Argentina over Amazon pollution

Two Chevron subsidiaries on Friday appealed a freeze on up to $19 billion worth of the company's assets in Argentina, part of an environmental lawsuit by Ecuadorean villagers that has spanned two decades and several countries.

The subsidiaries, Chevron Argentina and Ing. Norberto Priu, argued that they are not directly owned by Chevron Corp , which was the target of the litigation in Ecuador.

"Chevron Corp, the sole judgment debtor, has no assets in Argentina. All operations in Argentina are conducted by subsidiaries that have nothing to do with the fraudulent judgment in Ecuador," Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said via email.

An Ecuadorean court last year ordered Chevron to pay $19 billion for the contamination of watersheds over nearly 30 years that the plaintiffs say sickened indigenous tribes people and farmers in the Ecuadorean Amazon.

Chevron has refused to make any payments and accuses Ecuadorean courts of fraud. Because the company has few assets in the Andean nation, the plaintiffs are seeking enforcement of the ruling in other countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Canada.

An Argentine judge ordered the asset embargo on Wednesday.

The claimants' legal team estimates that Chevron's assets in Argentina are worth around $2 billion and that they could obtain some $600 million a year if the embargo were enforced. Chevron is Argentina's fourth-largest oil producer.

The two Chevron subsidiaries filed a motion to revoke the court's embargo order, arguing "it is improper on the basis of the plaintiffs' documented fraud, jurisdiction, and misapplication of law," Robertson said.

Karen Hinton, U.S. spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans, said the asset freeze must remain in place until the Argentine court decides whether it can enforce the Ecuadorean judgment.

"We expect that Chevron's attempt to undo the freeze order in Argentina will fail," she said.

US Supreme Court denies Chevron appeal

Earlier on October 9, the BBC reported that the US Supreme Court has declined to block a judgement from an Ecuadorean court that Chevron pay $19 b in damages for pollution in the Amazon.

The high court did not explain why it decided to reject the appeal from Chevron.

The case claimed that Texaco contaminated land between 1964 and 1992, and has triggered several other lawsuits in courts within the US and elsewhere.

But Chevron has said it believes the judgement, handed down by a court in Ecuador in February 2011, is fraudulent and not enforceable under New York law.

In March 2011 a court in New York issued an injunction that blocked the judgement. But it was overturned in January this year by an appeals court, which said Chevron had challenged the judgement prematurely.

The appeals court also said the New York judge could not stop other, foreign courts from enforcing the judgement - something the Ecuadorean plaintiffs are working to do in Canada and Brazil.

"While Chevron is disappointed that the court denied our petition, we will continue to defend against the plaintiffs' lawyers' attempts to enforce the fraudulent Ecuadorean judgment, and to further expose their misconduct," Chevron said in an email statement.

The oil firm has also challenged the judgement under an international trade agreement between the US and Ecuador, due to begin in November.

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It is heartening to know that corporate giants like Chevron are being held accountable for their less than responsible behaviour. They treat countries like their back yards and the local population and local contractors like slaves.

: Shabbir A Bashar

 

 


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