Chevron appeals to top Ecuador court in pollution case

QUITO Mon Dec 23, 2013 6:02pm EST

A lit sign at Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California is seen through a window after a large fire erupted earlier in the evening on August 6, 2012. REUTERS/Susana Bates

A lit sign at Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California is seen through a window after a large fire erupted earlier in the evening on August 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Susana Bates

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QUITO (Reuters) - U.S. energy company Chevron Corp appealed on Monday to Ecuador's highest court, asking it to cancel a $9.5 billion fine for polluting the Amazon rainforest in a long-running case.

Last month Ecuador's National Court of Justice upheld a 2011 verdict by a lower court that Chevron was responsible for pollution in the area caused by U.S. oil firm Texaco, whose assets were bought by Chevron in 2001.

Chevron says that 2011 ruling was obtained by fraud and it is pursuing a case in New York against the U.S. lawyer representing the plaintiffs who it says resorted to corruption to win what it calls an "illegitimate" verdict.

"Chevron Corp asked the Constitutional Court of Ecuador today to revoke the fraudulent $9.5 billion sentence against the company because of the multiple violations of constitutional guarantees," the U.S. company said in a statement.

Villagers in the remote jungle region say the pollution has harmed their health. Chevron says Texaco cleaned up the area before handing it to Ecuador's state oil company, Petroecuador, which Chevron says bears the responsibility.

The judge in the 2011 ruling ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion, plus an additional $9.5 billion for refusing to publicly apologize for the pollution. The National Court of Justice halved the fine last month, saying there had been no legal basis to sanction Chevron for not apologizing.

Earlier this month, an Ontario appeals court ruled that a group of Ecuadoreans can seek enforcement in Canada of the judgment against Chevron, overturning a lower court decision from earlier in the year.

The plaintiffs traveled to Canada to target what they say are Chevron's $15 billion worth of assets in that country. The California-based company no longer has any assets in Ecuador.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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