The Stratus affidavits did not change anything for Chevron's perilous legal position in the Ecuador environmental case where it faces a $19 billion liability, as well as asset seizure actions in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.
In a classic misdirection move designed to distract attention from its liability, Chevron last week unveiled affidavits from two scientsts from Stratus Consulting who used to work for the Amazon communities that for almost 50 years have been victimized by the company’s pollution. Chevron claimed the consultants, Douglas Beltman and Ann Maest, “disavowed” their involvement in the Ecuador litigation as well as the findings in a technical assessment known as the Cabrera Report that the Ecuador court did not even consider when finding the company liable.
These affidavits show just how limited the options for Chevron have become as it spends more and more money in an increasingly futile quest to escape accountability for its toxic dumping in the Amazon.
Chevron’s fundamental problem is that Beltman and Maest are not telling the truth about the science behind the Ecuador case.
As background, Chevron aimed a figurative gun at the head of Stratus, where Beltman is a partner. The company faced bankruptcy just by having to defend itself against Chevron’s 114-lawyer army at Gibson Dunn, which had named Stratus as a defendant in a highly questionable RICO case in New York.
Chevron had also waged a vicioius campaign to persuade clients of Stratus to fire the company based on false allegations that the company had committed "fraud" in Ecuador. As part of the settlement it extorted, Chevron forced Beltman and Maest to abide by a gag order and agree not to work on projects involving Chevron for two decades.
The problem Beltman and Maest (and Chevron) now have is that the recent affidavits clearly contradict their earlier sworn testimony (available here and here) that concluded Chevron was responsible for massive pollution in Ecuador. A chart of how Beltman and Maest have flagrantly changed their testimony in the face of Chevron’s threats can be found here.
Just weeks ago, in a legal filing, Stratus itself described the shakedown it was experiencing, saying Chevron has engaged in “an extrajudicial campaign of malicious defamation and deliberate interference with Stratus' business to tortuously destroy Stratus (and the livelihood of its employees).” Stratus made it clear in its court filings that it believed the Ecuador case was legitimate and based on valid scientific evidence. (See Stratus' Counterclaim against Chevron here)
Chevron is also trying to spin the affidavits to convince courts that the Amazon communities have “lost” the main source of their scientific data supporting the Ecuador judgment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stratus played a major role in preparing materials for one technical report that the court threw out.
Stratus had nothing to do with any of the more than 100 other expert reports submitted as evidence that were relied on to find liability.
Stratus never produced a single one of the 64,000 chemical sampling results presented by the parties to the court that documented extensive pollution at 100% of Chevron's well sites in Ecuador. This data was produced by 23 court-appointed experts nominated by the parties that did not include Stratus.
The trial judge also pegged the majority of the remediation cleanup valuation figures to the work of Gerardo Barros, a court appointed expert who had been designated by Chevron. Chevron’s argument that the process was “tainted” has not been accepted by any court in Ecuador, but as a practical matter the issue of what Stratus did in Ecuador with the Cabrera report is a nullity.
Apart from the prior sworn testimony of Beltman and Maest that proves the contentions of the communities, there is overwhelming scientific and testimonial evidence that documents Chevron’s environmental abuses in Ecuador, where it operated from 1964 to 1992 under the Texaco brand.
- Chevron’s own internal audits, produced in the early 1990s as it was winding down its operations in Ecuador, documented pollution at each one of its drilling sites. They also found the company exercised no environmental controls in the 25 years it operated in Ecuador. (See the audits here and here)
- During the trial, Chevron’s own chemical sampling results (see this comparison chart compiled with data from the Ecuador trial) proved the claims of the plaintiffs.
- Stratus itself documented the pollution in a devastating power point presentation that concluded 100% of the Chevron well sites in Ecuador tested during the trial had levels of toxicity that violated legal norms in the U.S.
Beltman said it best in a deposition taken by the Amazon communities on Sept. 9, 2011, on a date well before the effects of Chevron’s extortion effort had fully kicked in. Beltman testified that the way Chevron operated in Ecuador was “substandard” and that “groundwater, streams, rainforest, wells and stations” were “all contaminated” by the company’s operations.
Also on that day, again under oath, Beltman concluded that Chevron’s claims that its “remediation” in Ecuador was effective are “false” and that he believes that “exposure to carcinogens caused by Texaco operations at least contributed to the higher rates of cancer.”
If Beltman and Maest testify consistent with the recently extorted affidavits, they will look like liars. If a jury hears the earlier testimony under oath, which is corroborated by extensive evidence at trial, Chevron will (as it should) look terrible.
The bigger picture is that what Chevron does in a New York court has virtually no significance.
Courts in other countries being asked to enforce the judgment against Chevron assets, if anything, will recoil when asked to abide by any decision coming from a clearly biasd judge trying to give the oil giant a home court advantage. For an understanding of just how biased, read these mandamus petitions (here and here) asking for the reassignment of Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has set a date in May to consider that issue yet again, so it is unclear if the RICO trial will even get off the ground or if Chevron will blink when it comes time for a jury to hear even some of the awful facts relating to its criminal activity in Ecuador -- which includes attempted bribes of Ecuador's government to quash the case.
If anything, the New York proceeding before Judge Kaplan – like much else in this case – could easily boomerang against Chevron. Ditto for Beltman and Maest, who now have lost all credibility in the face of Chevron's pressure campaign that threatened their ability to earn a livelihood.
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