The convoluted 20-year battle between Chevron Corp. and lawyers for a group of Ecuadorean villagers who won a $19-billion oil pollution judgment against the company never ceases to amaze.
And despite the fact that the case involves oil contamination in the Amazon, a judgment issued by an Ecuadorean court, and a separate nasty court fight between the two sides in New York, the latest allegations may be coming to a Canadian courtroom near you.
For years, the lawyers for people living in Ecuador's polluted Lago Agrio region have traded allegations of bribery and fraud with spokesmen for one of the world's largest oil companies. But this week, the back-and-forth hit a new level.
In a New York court, Chevron filed an affidavit sworn by a former Ecuadorean judge involved in the case, who claims that the judge who actually issued the ruling had accepted a $500,000 (U.S.) bribe from the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs allege that this judge has essentially been bribed by Chevron Corp., which is paying his family $12,000 a month for living expenses and housing, to make what they allege are false claims.
Last year, the plaintiffs retained respected Toronto litigator Alan Lenczner and filed claims in Ontario Superior Court to have their controversial Ecuadorean judgment recognized, ostensibly to get their hands on Chevron's Canadian assets, including billions in oil sands projects. (They have also filed similar actions in Brazil and Argentina.)
A Chevron spokesman says the latest revelations could affect the Canadian proceeding. The plaintiffs' lawyers here have argued that Chevron is precluded from raising its previous fraud allegations, which they say have been dealt with and dismissed by the Ecuadorean courts. But Chevron may try to raise the latest fraud allegations in Ontario as it fights the Ecuadoreans' attempts to have the foreign judgment recognized and enforced here.
Reuters News Agency has a story with the details on the latest developments in the case here: Former Ecuador judge on Chevron case says plaintiffs bribed court
(Jeff Gray is a Globe and Mail Law Reporter.)
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