'We are going to appeal,' Amazon Defense Coalition tells Raw

A judge in New York City ruled earlier this week that an Ecuador court's decision to hold the Chevron oil company liable for $9.5 billion in damages should be placed on hold.

The ruling freezes the landmark judgment until allegations by Chevron can be heard, forcing Ecuadorians to appeal to Ecuador courts for enforcement in countries where Chevron has assets.

The firm says it operates all over the world, but its website only lists the top 28 countries where they view their work as "more extensive."

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote that the decision had to be placed on hold because it would damage the oil company's reputation and standing with business partners.

"There is a significant risk that assets would be seized or attached, thus disrupting Chevron's supply chain, causing it to miss critical deliveries to business partners," he opined.

Chevron, the plaintiff in this case, had counter-sued the Ecuadorians who've been pursuing claims against the firm for the last 18 years. They claimed the Ecuadorians engaged in fraud, racketeering and conspiracy to wrongfully enrich themselves at the company's expense.

Enforcement of the Ecuadorian court's judgement is on hold until the oil company's allegations can be weighed in court.

"There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that demonstrates Chevron intentionally contaminated the rain forest," Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Amazon Defense Coalition, told Raw Story.

"A high level of toxic, hazardous waste products remain in the soil and water and has caused harm to people's health, their lands and their culture."

She added that Ecuadorians had "a very good chance at success" at the appellate level.

"The judge in Ecuador wrote a detailed, thoughtful and thorough opinion about the lawsuit," she said. "It is 188 pages long, cites numerous laws, codes and regulations in Ecuador that justify his decision."

"We do not believe that Judge Kaplan had jurisdiction on this issue," Hinton continued. "This is the judgment of a sovereign nation's court system. We believe that once the appeal has run its course in Ecuador, the Ecuadorian lawyers can seek to enforce the judgment in any number of countries where Chevron has assets.

"It is presumptuous of Judge Kaplan to think he has the authority to tell other judges in other countries what to do. We are going to appeal."

The case first began in 1993, when Ecuadorian plaintiffs accused Texaco of using unlined pits to store oil-drilling waste. A decade later, the case moved to Ecuador after Texaco was bought by Chevron.

The plaintiffs initially sought $113 billion in damages.

"The trampling of due process in the court's refusal to consider key evidence or hold a hearing to determine the facts is an inappropriate exercise of judicial power that will harm the United States' relationship with Latin America and other parts of the world," Hinton added in a media advisory.

"It disregards the scholarly and comprehensive 188-page opinion of Ecuadorian Judge Nicolas Zambrano, a well-respected member of Ecuador's judiciary. It also ignores key evidence that Chevron has committed a series of frauds in Ecuador to cover up its unlawful misconduct."

A call seeking comment from Chevron's public relations department was not returned at time of this story's publication. Hours later, a Chevron spokesman set over the following statement:

"Chevron deeply appreciates the order of the Southern District of New York. The Lago Agrio plaintiffs’ lawyers should not be allowed to benefit from an Ecuadorian judicial system that does not provide due process and from a judgment that they have procured through fraud and corruption."

The judge's complete decision was available online (PDF).

Image credit: advocacy group Chevron in Ecuador.