Chevron says gives Ecuador evidence in bribery case

Mon Sep 7, 2009 6:09pm EDT

* E-mails, video evidence handed over

* Chevron calls for probe of government officials

By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Chevron Corp on Monday presented Ecuador's government with video tapes and e-mails it said provided evidence of a bribery scheme linked to a $27 billion environmental damages lawsuit against the U.S. oil company.

The judge hearing the case, Juan Nunez, last week recused himself from the case just days after Chevron handed Ecuadorean and U.S. authorities a secretly recorded video of the magistrate talking of ruling against Chevron later this year.

Ecuador's attorney general began investigating the bribery and misconduct accusations against Nunez after the U.S. company said it would ask for him to be disqualified from the case. The judge says he committed no wrongdoing.

Chevron said on Monday it provided Ecuadorean authorities with videos and e-mails to support its accusations and a letter requesting a probe into whether a presidential advisor and officials attempted to influence the case's outcome.

"In a letter to Ecuador authorities, the company asked that several important points be examined by the investigation into the scheme, which implicated the judge hearing the case, as well as ruling party and government officials," the company said in a statement.

Chevron has complained before about government interference in the 16-year-old case, in which indigenous communities have accused Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, of damaging the environment and their health while operating petroleum facilities in the region.

An expert appointed by the Ecuadorean court said last year that Chevron should pay around $27 billion, including more than $8 billion in unjust enrichment.

Chevron said last week the video, posted at TexacoEcuador YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/texacoecuador, shows a man at another meeting identifying himself as a representative of Ecuador's ruling party and discussing a $3 million bribe for contracts, of which Nunez would get a third.

The plaintiffs have accused Texaco of dumping billions of gallons of polluted water in the jungle around where they had lived for more than two decades before the company left Ecuador in the early 1990s.

SECRET RECORDINGS

The Amazon Defense Coalition, a plaintiffs' group, said on Friday that Nunez's decision to recuse himself clears the path for the legal proceedings to continue uninterrupted. But the group said the recusal does not "change the overwhelming evidence against Chevron."

Chevron said two meetings with Nunez and two meetings with purported party representative Patricio Garcia had been recorded by both Diego Borja, a local logistics contractor who has worked for Chevron, and American Wayne Hansen, who has no relationship with the company.

Chevron said the meetings were recorded without its knowledge, through small cameras in a watch owned by Borja and a pen held by Hansen. The company said Borja brought the bribery scheme to its attention in June.

The U.S. company says that the two men had not explained why they recorded the meetings.

Chevron said neither man was paid, though the San Ramon, California-based company said it had assisted Borja with the costs of relocating out of Ecuador and other support because he and Chevron feared for his safety and that of his family.

But the Amazon Defense Coalition said last week that Borja had worked for Chevron on the environmental trial during the final eight field inspections, and that one of his cousins works for Chevron. (Writing by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Richard Chang)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.