* Argentine lawsuit stems from $19 bln ruling against
* Chevron says Ecuador judgment fraudulent, unenforceable
* Plaintiffs have also filed lawsuits in Canada and Brazil
By Guido Nejamkis and Eduardo Garcia
BUENOS AIRES/QUITO, Nov 7 An Argentine judge has
embargoed up to $19 billion in Chevron assets in connection with
an environmental lawsuit by Ecuadorean villagers, a lawyer for
the plaintiffs said on Wednesday, the latest volley in a
two-decade-long legal saga that now spans several countries.
An Ecuadorean court last year ordered Chevron Corp
to pay the enormous sum for contamination of watersheds over
nearly 30 years that the plaintiffs say sickened indigenous
tribespeople and farmers in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
Chevron has refused to make any payments and accuses
Ecuadorean courts of fraud. Because the company has few assets
in the Andean nation, the plaintiffs are seeking enforcement of
the ruling in other countries including Brazil and Canada.
"The freeze order applies to the entire $19 billon amount of
the Ecuador judgment, meaning that Chevron will effectively be
barred from investing further in Argentina unless it wants to
risk seizure of those assets as well," the plaintiffs said in a
The ruling could pave the way for the plaintiffs to collect
on the award. But it could also be just another round of
judicial ping-pong in a complex legal battle that has included
frequent appeals and vicious accusations.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Enrique Bruchou, said the ruling by
Argentine judge Adrian Elcuj includes an embargo on 40 percent
of Chevron's Argentine oil revenue, the company's shares in its
Argentine subsidiary and a stake in an oil pipeline.
"We consider this to be an exemplary ruling," he said. "We
are letting the world know that foreign investment is welcome in
Latin America, but that investors must adhere to the same
environmental standards that apply in their own countries."
Chevron, Argentina's fourth-largest oil producer, said it
was not aware of any Argentine court order and reiterated its
position that the Ecuador ruling is unenforceable.
"The Ecuador judgment is a product of bribery, fraud, and it
is illegitimate ... We do not believe that the Ecuador judgment
is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law," the
company said in a statement.
Bruchou said the company can appeal, but would have to file
for an appeal in Ecuador because the judge issued the embargo
after a request by an Ecuadorean court.
The plaintiffs plan to file similar suits in Colombia as
well as in as yet unidentified countries in Asia and Europe.
A U.S. appeals court in January said that a U.S. judge did
not have the authority to stop courts in other countries from
enforcing the judgment. Chevron appealed the decision, but the
U.S. supreme court rejected the appeal in October.
LONG LEGAL FIGHT
Filled with intrigue, accusations of corruption, bribery and
dirty tricks, the complicated case has been fought for nearly
two decades, mainly in courts in Ecuador and the United States.
Chevron filed for arbitration in 2009, accusing Ecuador of
violating a treaty with the United States requiring the
OPEC-member country to guarantee Chevron a fair trial.
The company has also accused the plaintiffs, their legal
team and their advisers of fraud in a U.S. court. The trial is
scheduled to begin on Oct. 15, 2013.
The plaintiffs from villages in the oil-rich Amazon won an
$18.2 billion case against the oil giant over claims that
Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, contaminated the area from
1964 to 1992.
Their legal team argues that Texaco's remediation efforts
were insufficient. Their long-term legal adviser, Steven
Donziger, has also filed counter claims in a U.S. court accusing
Chevron of fraud.
The claimants' lawyers estimate that Chevron's assets in
Argentina are worth around $2 billion and that they could obtain
some $600 million a year if the embargo is enforced.
In September, Chevron signed an accord with state-controlled
YPF, Argentina's No. 1 energy company, to consider a
joint exploration project.
Chevron argues that the company has no direct assets in
Argentina because its operations in the country are conducted by
"Plaintiffs' lawyers have no legal right to embargo
subsidiary assets in Argentina and should not be allowed to
disrupt Argentina's pursuit of its important energy resources,"