Two Argentine subsidiaries of Chevron Corp. have appealed a court ruling freezing the U.S. oil supermajor’s assets in the South American country.
An Argentine judge ordered the asset embargo this week after being petitioned by a court in Ecuador, where Chevron has been ordered to pay $19 billion for irreversible environmental damage in the Amazon between 1964 and the early 1990s by Texaco.
The subsidiaries - Chevron Argentina and Ing. Norberto Priu - argued in their appeal that the embargo is “not applicable due to the existence of widely documented fraud perpetrated by the plaintiffs, as well as the lack of jurisdiction and erroneous application of the law,” Chevron’s spokesman for Latin America, James Craig, told Efe Friday.
“Chevron Corp, the sole judgment debtor, has no assets in Argentina. All operations in Argentina are conducted by subsidiaries that have nothing to do with the fraudulent judgment in Ecuador,” the spokesman added by e-mail.
Judge Adrian Elcuj Miranda handed down his ruling Wednesday after an Ecuadorian court petitioned him under the terms of a regional treaty, the attorney representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in Argentina, Enrique Bruchou, said in a press conference.
The 47 named plaintiffs represent some 30,000 Amazon villagers who say Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001, spoiled their lands and damaged their health by dumping billions of gallons of toxic drilling waste in a 480,000-hectare (1,850-sq.-mile) area of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
They are seeking to enforce a January 2012 appeals court judgment against Chevron in countries such as Argentina, Canada and Brazil because the U.S. company has few assets in Ecuador.
The embargo covers 100 percent of Chevron Argentina’s stock - valued at roughly $2 billion - and all of its dividends, its 14 percent stake in the company Oleoductos del Valle, 40 percent of the company’s oil sales to refineries and 40 percent of the funds it has deposited in Argentine banks, Bruchou said.
Chevron is the fourth-largest oil producer in Argentina with output of 35,000 barrels per day in 2011, according to the company’s Web site.
The case in Ecuador is currently before the National Court of Justice in Quito, but the judgment is already enforceable because Chevron has refused to post a bond with the high court to halt enforcement of the appellate court’s ruling.
On Oct. 16, an Ecuadorian judge issued a ruling ordering the U.S. multinational to turn over its assets in the Andean nation, which the plaintiffs say total some $200 million.
The pollution case was initially filed in New York in 1993, but Chevron succeeded in having it moved from the United States to Ecuador in 2003, four years before President Rafael Correa came to power amid voter anger at corruption and traditional politicians.
But Chevron now says that the case has become politicized under the leftist Correa and that it cannot receive a fair trial.
Although the oil company maintains that Texaco was cleared of any liability for damages, plaintiffs say that mid-1990s agreement with the government did not release it from third-party claims and that Chevron is reneging on its pledge to abide by whatever decision was handed down by Ecuadorian courts.
Chevron said on its Web site after the initial 2011 verdict by a court in the Ecuadorian Amazon town of Lago Agrio that state oil company Petroecuador should be the target of local communities’ legal action.
It noted then that Texaco ceased operating in Ecuador in 1992 and that Petroecuador has been “the sole and exclusive owner and operator of greatly expanded operations in the area from (that year) to the present.”
Chevron has appealed the Ecuador pollution verdict to the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, or ICSID.
The San Ramon, California-based company also has brought legal action in a U.S. federal court in New York against the plaintiffs’ U.S. and Ecuadorian lawyers for violations of the federal racketeering statute, accusing them of trying to extort a financial settlement from the company.
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