March 2, 2012 / 8:27 PM / 7 years ago

Ecuador plaintiffs eye Chevron assets in Venezuela, Panama

* Ecuador court imposed $18 bln judgment against Chevron

* Chevron says local court’s decision is “fraud”

By Eduardo Garcia

QUITO, March 2 (Reuters) - The legal team representing Ecuadorean plaintiffs who won an $18 billion landmark case against oil giant Chevron for polluting the Amazon jungle will target the company’s assets in Panama and Venezuela in a bid to collect the award.

Pablo Fajardo, the plaintiffs lead lawyer, told Reuters on Friday that they would first need countries outside Ecuador to recognize the validity of the sentence, and then could try to enforce the ruling there.

“Chevron has investments in more than 50 countries, but two have caught our eye ... Panama because oil ships go through the Panama Canal and in Venezuela because they have important assets there,” Fajardo said.

When asked if they will try to confiscate Chevron assets in those two countries the lawyer said his team has not yet decided how they will proceed.

The plaintiffs accused Texaco, which was later taken over by Chevron, of causing illnesses among the local population by dumping drilling waste in unlined pits in the 1970s and 1980s.

Chevron denies the accusations. It says Texaco did not pollute the jungle, and that it properly cleaned up all the pits for which it was responsible.

The $18-billion judgment was upheld by an appeals court in January but Chevron has appealed to Ecuador’s Supreme Court in a bid to have the ruling overturned.

The case in Ecuador was heard in the impoverished town of Lago Agrio, in the Amazon jungle. It has been filled with intrigue, accusations of corruption, bribery and dirty tricks.

Activists portray the 19-year-long legal saga as a David versus Goliath struggle. Chevron says the proceedings have been driven by greedy lawyers and investors aiming to profit from the case, rather than by a hunger for justice.

Chevron has said it has evidence of fraud by lawyers for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, which the lawyers deny. The company is pursuing a separate racketeering lawsuit in the United States against the plaintiffs and their attorneys.

“I can’t comment on any specific country, but I can assure you that Chevron will go to any court, in any country of the world to combat this fraud. It will place before any and all courts the overwhelming evidence of the plaintiffs’ illicit and unethical conduct,” Chevron spokesman James Craig told Reuters.

An international tribunal earlier this week found that it has jurisdiction to decide if Ecuador violated a treaty with the United States requiring it to guarantee a fair trial to the company.

The panel was set up through The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration, and works under rules established by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.

Ecuador’s attorney general has argued that the tribunal has no jurisdiction because the bilateral trade agreement between the United States and the Andean country went into effect five years after Texaco ended operations in Ecuador in 1992.

The case is being watched closely by the oil industry for precedents that could influence other claims by states accusing multinational companies of pollution. (Editing by Vicki Allen)

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