Chevron seeks dismissal of Ecuador lawsuit

NEW YORK/QUITO Mon Oct 8, 2007 8:34pm BST

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NEW YORK/QUITO (Reuters) - Chevron Corp (CVX.N) asked an Ecuador court on Monday to drop an environmental lawsuit the oil giant said had turned into a "judicial farce."

In its petition to an Ecuador Superior Court, Chevron cited several examples of interference in the case by the executive branch of the government, judicial misconduct and misconduct by the plaintiffs lawyers, the company said in a statement.

The company also said the court failed to recognize the "overwhelming volume" of evidence and legal defenses that would exonerate the company, as well as the court's lack of jurisdiction, due process and bias.

"We now find ourselves in a situation where the court is abandoning any sense that this is going to be conducted under the rule of law," Chevron General Counsel Charles James told Reuters. "This puts them on notice that any ruling that is adduced through this process will have no validity whatsoever."

Nearly 30,000 residents of the Amazon jungle, including the Cofan Indian tribe, accuse Chevron's Texaco subsidiary of dumping 18 billion gallons of oil-polluted water from 1972 to 1992. They are seeking $6 billion in damages from the San Ramon, California-based company.

Steven Donziger, one of the plaintiff's lawyers, classified Chevron's request for a dismissal as "a strategy that already has been tried and failed in multiple occasions.

"We are confident that the evidence in the court up to this point is overwhelmingly favorable to us," Donziger said.

The plaintiffs have received the public support of leftist Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who has said that Chevron has done irreversible damage to the Amazon.

But Chevron denies the claims against it and has been fighting the litigation. Earlier this year, the company threatened to take the case outside of Ecuador to an international tribunal.

"Every instrumentality of the court is under a tremendous amount of pressure," said Chevron's James. "With the executive branch exhorting everyone in this country to find Texaco liable, it's very unclear to us that anyone can withstand that pressure and act independently."

James said the company would continue to fight the case until it is vindicated.

Chevron asserts it is being persecuted for damage that was done by state oil company Petroecuador.

It said the oil fields in question have been owned and operated by Petroecuador for more than 17 years and that the Ecuadorean company had not fulfilled its remediation obligations.

Petroecuador has also operated the fields in a manner that has caused numerous environmental problems, including frequent spills, Chevron said.

Last week, Ecuador ordered foreign oil companies to give the state nearly all their extra revenue generated by high oil prices. Correa has also said he wants to renegotiate their contracts to increase Ecuador's share in oil projects.

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily in New York and Ankur Relia in Bangalore)

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