Ecuador-Chevron 3rdLd-Writethru 04-02
Ecuador expert recommends Chevron pay billions for jungle contamination
Eds: CORRECTS name, Veiga sted Viega.
By JEANNETH VALDIVIESO
Associated Press Writer
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — A court-appointed expert has recommended that Chevron Corp. pay up to $16 billion for allegedly polluting the Ecuadorean Amazon. Chevron on Wednesday called the expert biased, and the trial a farce.
The class-action lawsuit by 30,000 jungle settlers and Indians alleges the San Ramon, California-based company failed to clean up billions of gallons of toxic wastewater produced by Texaco Petroleum Co., which Chevron acquired in 2001.
The court in the jungle town of Lago Agrio confirmed the multibillion-dollar damage total to The Associated Press on Wednesday. It was tallied by geological engineer Richard Cabrera, but has yet to be approved by a judge.
Plaintiffs lawyer Pablo Fajardo told the AP that Cabrera recommends Chevron pay at least $8 billion in damages, and possibly another $8 billion representing company savings by operating recklessly.
"This is a significant advance because it gets us closer to the end of the trial," Fajardo said.
Chevron denies the allegations and says Texaco, which ended its Ecuador operations in 1992 after three decades, followed Ecuadorean environmental laws in a $40 million cleanup, which the government approved in 1998.
The oil company says Cabrera is not qualified to make the analysis and has questioned his impartiality.
"This trial is a farce," said Ricardo Reis Veiga, Chevron’s vice president for Latin America.
Chevron, which has the right to appeal the findings, has complained that Cabrera sees Texaco as the only company that could have polluted the jungle, even though it was a minority shareholder in an agreement with state oil company Petroecuador.
"The court’s appointee has knowingly violated the judge’s orders and delivered a report that is biased and scientifically indefensible," Veiga said. "No legitimate court in the world would permit such a charade."
He said Chevron will ask the court to throw out the case on the basis that Chevron was not informed of when the report would be presented.
Fajardo called Chevron’s attacks on Cabrera an act of desperation.
"I think that anyone who tells the truth in this trial will be poorly viewed" by Chevron, he said.
The plaintiffs tried for a decade to have their case heard in a U.S. federal court before shifting their battle to a makeshift courtroom in ramshackle Lago Agrio in 2003.