An Argentine judge has embargoed the assets of U.S. oil supermajor Chevron Corp. in the South American country, a victory for plaintiffs trying to collect on a $19 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador for environmental damage.
Judge Adrian Elcuj Miranda on Wednesday upheld a petition by an Ecuadorian court that was filed under the terms of a regional treaty, the attorney for the plaintiffs in Argentina, Enrique Bruchou, said in a press conference.
The goal of the 47 named Ecuadorian plaintiffs is to collect on a $19 billion sum that Chevron has been ordered to pay for irreversible environmental damage between 1964 and the early 1990s by Texaco.
The plaintiffs represent some 30,000 rainforest villagers and Indians 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 those rulings in countries such as Argentina, Canada and Brazil because Chevron 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, he 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.
James Craig, Chevron’s spokesman for Latin America, told Efe that all of the oil company’s operations in Argentina are conducted by subsidiaries and that the plaintiffs have no right to attach subsidiary assets.
The case in Ecuador is currently before the National Court of Justice in Quito, but the sentence is already enforceable because Chevron has refused to post a bond with the high court to prevent enforcement of an appellate court’s judgment.
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.