Brazil may shift jurisdiction of Chevron case

Fri Mar 23, 2012 9:04pm EDT

* New jurisdiction would take prosecutor off case
    * Civil suit already shifted to Rio de Janeiro

    By Jeb Blount and Joshua Schneyer	
    RIO DE JANEIRO, March 23 (Reuters) - A judge in
Campos, Brazil, could shift the criminal charges filed against
Chevron and drill-rig operator Transocean to Rio
de Janeiro, a decision that would remove a crusading prosecutor
from the case. 	
    Eduardo Santos de Oliveira, a federal prosecutor based in
Campos, in Rio de Janeiro's interior, told Reuters on Friday a
jurisdictional review is under way, which could delay any formal
criminal indictment of the firms and their employees for weeks.	
    Oliveira filed criminal charges against Chevron, Transocean
and 17 of their employees in Brazil this week for alleged crimes
related to a November offshore oil spill in Brazil's Frade
field, which Chevron operates.  	
    He pledged to seek maximum prison sentences of 31 years
against the firms' executives.    	
    Federal judge Claudio Girão Barreto will consider whether
the companies must post bonds in Campos or whether the case
should be moved to Rio de Janeiro. The judicial review normally
takes around ten calendar days.	
    	
    
  	
    	
    The review does not alter the content of the criminal
charges, but it could remove the case from Oliveira's turf and
hand it to another team of prosecutors.   	
    The question of jurisdiction stems from the location of the
alleged crimes in a deep-sea oil field beyond Brazil's
territorial waters but within its 200-nautical-mile (370
kilometers) "exclusive economic zone."	
    Oliveira said the judge had asked him to appear in court on
Monday with more details about the case.	
    "I think moving the case to Rio de Janeiro would be a
mistake," said Oliveira in a telephone interview. "Chevron and
Transocean want you to believe this happened on some foreign
ship or platform in international waters. But the crime happened
under the seabed, in physical Brazilian territory."	
    Some Brazilian officials, including Senator Jorge Viana of
the government's ruling party, have called Oliveira's charges
over-aggressive. Viana told Reuters this week that the case
could damage Brazil's oil industry.  	
    A 20 billion reais ($11 billion) civil suit filed earlier by
Oliveira in Campos against Chevron and Transocean, its drilling
contractor at Frade, has already been shifted to Rio de
Janeiro's capital. A judge ruled in January that Campos wasn't
the proper jurisdiction for the civil case, Brazil's
largest-ever environmental lawsuit. 	
    Chevron's November leak of 2,400 to 3,000 barrels of oil at
the Frade field was the result of a pressure kick during
drilling. Oliveira has said Chevron's drilling was reckless and
unsafe. The companies deny the charges.
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