With evidence against it in the Ecuador pollution case mounting, Chevron has turned to none other than convicted felon and former media titan Conrad Black to help it try to block indigenous villagers from enforcing their environmental judgment in Canada.
A few days ago Black published an op-ed article in Canada that repeated Chevron's talking points and viciously attacked the rainforest villagers and their counsel. The article appeared in the newspaper Black founded in 1998, The National Post. In 2007, Black was convicted on fraud charges in Chicago related to the sale of his various newspapers, which at one point comprised one of the largest English-language media empires in the world.
A jury found that Black misled investors and looted company funds to support a lavish lifestyle that included luxury homes in several cities around the world. He was incarcerated in a federal prison before being deported to Canada and barred from entering the United States for 30 years.
(For more on Black's checkered background, see this story in Vanity Fair. For a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron in Ecuador, see here. For evidence of the high cancer rates caused by Chevron's pollution, see here. For a whistleblower video exposing Chevron's fraud in Ecuador, see here. For a sworn affidavit outlining some of Chevron's efforts to sabotage the Ecuador trial, see here.)
Chevron is up in arms that it might finally be held accountable in Canada and forced to pay the $9.5 billion Ecuador judgment after 22 years of playing a jurisdictional shell game. Canada's Supreme Court ruled unanimously in September that the Ecuadorians could try to enforce their judgment against company assets to force compliance with the court order in Ecuador.
The Canada Supreme Court decision has created major new difficulties for Chevron's avowed strategy to "fight until hell freezes over" and not pay the judgment it owes to those it harmed. After reviewing more than 100 technical evidentiary reports, Ecuador's Supreme Court in 2013 affirmed a lower court judgment that found Chevron had deliberately and systematically dumped billions of gallons of oil waste into streams and rivers relied on by local inhabitants for their drinking water. Cancer rates in the area have skyrocketed and untold numbers of local citizens have succumbed to the disease.
The Canada Supreme Court decision is typical in cases where a scofflaw debtor tries to evade a court judgment by selling off its assets in one country and moving them to another. That's what Chevron did in Ecuador after it fought for years to venue the trial there and accepted jurisdiction.
When a defendant loses a case and runs from the law, the judgment creditor always has a right to ask another country's courts to enforce their judgment against the defendant's assets. But according to Chevron and its new surrogate Mr. Black, an exception to this rule should be made for the long-suffering Ecuadorian villagers.
According to Black, the villagers should be blocked completely from Canada's courts.
Of course, if this were a commercial enforcement case involving one of Black's businesses that was getting stiffed in another country, he would be the first to cheer the Canada Supreme Court decision. He might consider the rank double standard he is proposing for the impoverished villagers who for decades have been victimized by Chevron's gross misconduct, as the U.S. show 60 Minutes documented in this segment.
More interesting to us is how Chevron seems to consider its options so limited in Canada that it turns to a convicted felon to argue its position in the press. Conrad Black likely was not the first person Chevron approached to write an op-ed. But he likely was the only one who agreed to do it.
Chevron recently got major egg on its face after the membership of Canadian Bar Association rejected an attempt by the company to intervene in its internal affairs and enlist the organization to file a "friend of the court" brief before the Canada Supreme Court. When Chevron's secret maneuver became public, the company was forced to withdraw the brief after it had been filed. Oops.
The enlisting of Black is not the only sign of Chevron's jitters in Canada.
The company's star witness, the Ecuadorian citizen Alberto Guerra, recently admitted lying on the stand in a farcical U.S. "racketeering" trial used by Chevron to try to taint the Ecuador judgment. In violation of federal law, Chevron paid Guerra $2 million in cash and benefits for his testimony. The company later conceded its lawyers coached Guerra for 53 days before he was allowed to take the stand. (The highly flawed decision in that case is on appeal.)
Without the discredited Guerra available to testify in Canada, Chevron has no real defense. Which is why Chevron and Mr. Black argue that Canada's courts should not take up the case at all.
For years, it has been obvious that Chevron will do virtually anything to evade paying the Ecuador judgment. That includes threatening judges in Ecuador, drowning the court with duplicative motions, presenting false testimony, paying fact witnesses, trying to bribe Ecuador's government to quash the legal case, obstructing justice, and filing retaliatory lawsuits against dozens of people who worked to hold it accountable. (For more background, see this article in the Huffington Post.)
Chevron's thinking that using a convicted felon will help improve the company's tattered image in Canada suggests a profound disconnect from reality. But it is depressingly consistent with the company's past behavior.
In 2009, Chevron used convicted drug felon Wayne Hansen in a failed attempt to entrap the Ecuador trial judge in a manufactured bribery scheme. Chevron investigators later spirited Hanson out of California to Peru to avoid a subpoena where he would have been forced to answer questions about the company's sordid attempt to undermine a trial it knew it was losing on the merits.
If Mr. Black wants to publicly debate us on Chevron's crimes and fraud in Ecuador without a company apparatchik whispering in his ear, we would be happy to make one of our advocates available.