The decades-long legal battle between Chevron and Ecuador took yet another dramatic turn on Monday when the company announced that it has videotapes revealing a $3 million bribery scheme implicating the judge overseeing a multibillion-dollar civil suit filed against the company by indigenous residents of the country's Amazon Basin.
The latest turn has Chevron and its lawyers from Jones Day firing back against the 30,000 plaintiffs and their lawyers, as well as the Ecuadorean legal system. The case stems from environmental contamination allegedly caused by years of oil drilling in the region conducted by Texaco, which Chevron bought for nearly $35 billion in 2000. (Click here for a feature story on the case in The American Lawyer's Fall 2006 Litigation Supplement.)
In a press release, Chevron says that is has provided authorities in the U.S. and Ecuador with video recordings of Judge Juan Núñez and individuals who identify themselves as representatives of the Ecuadorean government and its ruling political party, Alianza PAIS.
The company claims the recordings show an alleged PAIS representative seeking $3 million in bribes in return for handing out "environmental remediation contracts" to two businessmen after a verdict is handed down by Judge Núñez later this year. Of that sum, $1 million would go to Núñez, $1 million to "the presidency" and another $1 million to plaintiffs in the case.
According to Chevron, the recordings were made between May and June of this year. Two of the meetings on the video allegedly took place in the Quito offices of PAIS, another in Núñez's chambers in the northern city of Lago Agrio and the last meeting involving the judge took place in a Quito hotel room.
The company posted two hours' worth of videotaped conversations covering the four meetings on a Web site dedicated to telling Chevron's side of the story in the case, along with a letter to Ecuador's prosecutor general.
In the three-page letter, Jones Day litigation chief Thomas Cullen, Jr., wrote that the recordings have "serious implications for the integrity of the Lago Agrio proceedings, for the reliability of the rule of law, for the criminal liability of the various individuals apparently soliciting bribes, and for the past as well as the future role of Judge Núñez in the proceedings."
Cullen states that evidence of the bribery plot was brought to Chevron's attention in June by Diego Borja, an Ecuadorean working as a logistics contractor for the company. Borja was pursuing business opportunities with an American businessman named Wayne Hansen, whom Chevron claims has no relationship with the company. Borja and Hansen recorded their conversations without Chevron's knowledge and were not paid by the company to turn them over.
Cullen's letter claims that the following individuals met with Borja and Hansen: Carlos Patricio Garcia Ortega, a political coordinator for PAIS, Juan Pablo Novoa Velasco, a lawyer representing the Ecuadorean government, Aulo Gelio Servio Tulio Avila Cartagena, a lawyer close to Judge Núñez, Pablo Almeida, an environmental remediation contractor, and Ruben Dario Miranda Martinez, an assistant of Ortega's.
During one of the meetings recorded by Borja and Hansen, Núñez indicates that he's already determined that Chevron is the guilty party and that he will issue a judgment in the ballpark of $27 billion before January 2010. (In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Núñez admitted meeting with the two businessmen but denied accepting bribes.)