Thought Chevron Corp. had smooth sailing after a $150 million settlement with the Brazilian government over a November 2011 oil spill led to criminal charges in the case being dropped? As it turns out, the company and 11 of its employees can’t breathe easy quite yet.
Brazilian judges ordered a reopening of criminal charges against Chevron and 11 employees over the 3,600 barrel oil spill. The same prosecutor’s office that drew up the settlement is now working the criminal portion of the case, attempting to show that Chevron should be held responsible for a disaster that it does not claim it committed.
“The prosecutors are trying to show that the defendants’ arguments that there is no proof of an environmental crime are wrong,” prosecutors said in a statement, per Reuters. The prosecutors, however, believe that they do have direct evidence linking Chevron to environmental pollution.
A Brazilian appeals court originally ruled 2-1 in October 2013 to re-open the criminal portion of the case, but that ruling was kept quiet so that judges could review Chevron’s challenge to the ruling. Brazil’s public prosecutor’s office opposed re-opening the case, but judges upheld the appeals court’s ruling.
Chevron intends to continue to fight the ruling, telling Reuters that the company “continues to believe that the complaint is without merit.” If convicted, Chevron employees face up to three decades in prison.
Although the prosecutor’s office is re-opening the criminal complaint against Chevron, it has not charged employees of drilling contractor Transocean Ltd. with any crime. Transocean was named in the original indictment.
The oil spill, which occurred in the Frade oil field near Rio de Janeiro, led to the largest environmental prosecution in Brazilian history. In August 2012, a Brazilian court upheld an injunction barring Chevron and Transocean from conducting business in Brazilian.
For more on oil companies in hot water, check out these InsideCounsel articles: