Ecuador says had no role in alleged bribery case

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said on Saturday his government had no involvement in an alleged bribery scheme linked to a $27 billion environmental damages lawsuit against U.S. oil company Chevron Corp.

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

The company accuses the government of meddling in the case.

“They’ve come up with some videos, but we are not going to fall into the trap,” the president said during a public address. “We are not involved.”

Chevron said a separate video 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, who denies any wrongdoing, would get a third.

Chevron said the meetings were recorded without its knowledge with secret cameras placed in a watch and a pen. The company says the two men who made the videos did not explain why they did so.

“The company is desperate,” Correa said. “If someone attended a meeting in the name of the government, we did not know anything about it.”

Correa, a socialist, has taken a hard line against private investors, insisting that oil companies renegotiate contracts in order to expand state control over Ecuador’s natural resources.

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

Correa supports the plaintiffs, who accused Texaco of dumping billions of gallons of polluted water in the jungle for more than two decades before the company left Ecuador in the early 1990s.

The case is the subject of a new documentary film called “Crude”, which shows villagers living by oil-slicked streams and washing clothes in contaminated water.

One scene shows a newborn with head-to-toe skin rashes. Others offer interviews with people who say those who use the water or live near it are prone to cancer and other ailments.

“Of course I want our indigenous friends to win,” Correa said on Saturday.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Phil Stewart