Chevron asks Ecuador court to dismiss key expert

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Chevron Corp, which is in the throes of a multibillion-dollar pollution lawsuit in Ecuador, has asked courts there to disregard an environmental expert who has said the company should pay $27 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rain forest.

In a filing to the Lago Agrio court on Friday, Chevron said it was seeking the dismissal of geologist Richard Cabrera as an appointee and the rejection of his work in its entirety.

Cabrera has said Chevron should pay $27 billion in compensation for environmental damage stemming from oil pollution in the Amazon rain forest.

The lawsuit contends that Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001, polluted the jungle and damaged the health of local residents by dumping 18 billion gallons (68 billion liters) of contaminated water from 1972 to 1992.

Chevron, which has been snarled in a legal fight for 17 years, has said the claim against it is without merit.

In a copy of the court filing given to Reuters by Chevron, the company says Cabrera had had ongoing contact with plaintiffs’ representatives and that he based a large part of his report on material provided by them.

Chevron claims Cabrera violated his legal duties by working directly with the plaintiffs’ lawyers and consultants.

Plaintiffs said Cabrera was acting appropriately when he sought information from people on both sides of the lawsuit, and that Chevron chose not to participate in the process.

“This direct evidence of fraud and ex parte contacts further demonstrates the illegitimacy of the fictitious $27 billion number the plaintiffs’ lawyers have created for the purpose of extracting money from Chevron and its shareholders,” said Chevron vice president and general counsel Hewitt Pate.

The argument about Cabrera not being independent is one Chevron has made before, most notably when he revised his damage estimate to $27 billion in 2008.

“Since evidence at trial has indisputably shown Chevron is responsible for extensive contamination, the company has done everything within its power to attack the judicial process at its last hope of evading liability,” said Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group suing the company in Ecuador.

She added Chevron’s filing is meant to distract shareholders ahead of their annual meeting later this week.

Reporting by Dana Ford; editing by Andre Grenon and Carol Bishopric