Is Chevron's countersuit against Ecuador's plantiff lawyers legitimate or an act of intimidation? Chevron's recently filed Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit suggests that the oil company may be resorting to threats in a last ditch effort to derail a historic case that has dragged on for nearly 20 years - the original lawsuit was first filed back in 1993.
Chevron's subsidiary, Texaco Inc. used to run several Ecuadorian oil fields until the 1990's, when Petroecuador took over. The plaintiff reports that when Chevron operated the oil fields, the company engaged in acts harmful to the local health and environment.
Specifically, the plaintiff claims that Chevron dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into rivers, spilled thousands of oil barrels, and abandoned 900 toxic waste pits.
Chevron meanwhile has stated that after a $40 million cleanup, any remaining contamination is Petroecuador's responsibility. R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron's vice president has stated that the company "has no intention of giving these plaintiffs' lawyers the payday they seek."
Now, as judgment nears, Chevron has made some bold moves. This past Tuesday, Chevron filed a countersuit against Ecuador's lawyers and consultants. Chevron accused the consultants of ghost-writing an expert's report and fabricating a peer review. With these claims of fraud, Chevron asks the court that any judgment against the company be deemed unenforceable.
Meanwhile, plaintiff spokeswoman Karen Hinton has deemed Chevron's countersuit an act of "corporate bullying." A press release from the Amazon Defense Coalition claims that Chevron has also recently threatened the trial judge with criminal liability, sued each of Ecuador's 47 impoverished indigenous plaintiffs in New York federal court, tried to bar any American lawyer from enforcing a judgment outside of Ecuador (an unprecedented injunction), and may have broken the record for the longest deposition of a lawyer on a sitting case.
According to The New York Times, the recently filed RICO lawsuit makes sense, as it "fits squarely within Chevron's strategy of seeking to turn U.S. courts against the plaintiffs."
While Chevron's recent conduct has come under scrutiny, the company's past conduct in Ecuadorian courts has also been questioned. The Amazon Defense Coalition's press release accuses Chevron of undercounting toxins in the soil and water with their field sampling methods, forcing an Ecuadorian judge's recusal through entrapment, and exposing more locals to toxins while obtaining a legal release from claims. A Chevron contractor also reportedly accused the company of cooking the books, switching out contaminated samples for clean ones.
Karen Hinton claims that Chevron's recent civil RICO suit was filed out of concern over Wall Street and shareholder reactions. With tens of billions of dollars on the line for Chevron's shareholders, it would certainly make sense for the company to try and pull out all the stops. Ultimately though, Ecuador's lead attorney Pablo Fajardo believes, "Irrefutable scientific truth will triumph over Chevron's intimidation tactics and desperation."
The finger pointing, intimidation, lawsuits, and countersuits all blur into what might appear to be just a big game. But at its core, there are human beings seeking justice, and a company terrified of what justice might find.