The record $19 billion fine levied against Chevron Corporation by a court in Ecuador for contaminating the Amazon rainforest takes a new twist as a New York court hears a case of fraud against the high-profile lawyer who helped Ecuador win its 2011 judgment.
In a legal battle that has continued for two decades, the case against Chevron in Ecuador was led by New York lawyer Steven R. Donziger, who is now the target of another lawsuit alleging misconduct and fraud. Donziger was allegedly caught on video on the sidelines of filming for the documentary film “Crude” conceding that evidence had been fabricated to win the ruling in the Ecuador court.
And now we’re seeing previous Donziger devotees abandoning the cause, and the embattled lawyer as it becomes clearer that the New York court favors Chevron in the case.
Environmental groups say Chevron has only spent $40 million cleaning up the Amazon, but has spent more than $1 billion fighting the lawsuit.
The playing field here has been a murky one. Donziger secured millions of dollars in financing for the lawsuit from hedge fund Burford Capital and Patton Boggs in Washington, DC, which would have been repaid several times over with a share in the settlement against Chevron. But after doling out $4 million to Donziger’s cause, the hedge fund pulled out when Chevron laid allegations of fraud against Donziger.
In addition, Stratus Consulting—another of Donziger’s weapons—wrote the report that laid out Chevron’s contamination of the Amazon but then was hit by fraud charges from Chevron and recanted the report before the court.
If the district court in Manhattan rules against Donziger, it might be impossible for Ecuador to collect its $19 billion from Chevron.
If Chevron loses the case, it will embolden Ecuador to take the lawsuit to international courts and lend momentum to attempts by Ecuador and Donziger to seize Chevron assets in Canada, Argentina and Brazil to pay the $19 billion fine.