Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Businessweek's Paul Barrett Ignores Spectacular Implosion of Chevron's RICO Case

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

Businessweek reporter Paul Barrett is again taking Chevron's side in the Ecuador pollution litigation by failing to report on the spectacular implosion of the company's RICO case. Readers of Businessweek interested in the latest news on the litigation are getting shortchanged.

We previously reported how Barrett generally frames his stories about the Ecuador litigation in a way that apologizes for Chevron's corruption and betrays a deep animus toward U.S. attorney Steven Donziger, the advisor to the affected rainforest communities that obtained a $9.5 billion judgment against the oil giant. Barrett adopted his flawed narrative in his thinly-sourced book on the case (called Law of the Jungle), which is largely an ad hominem attack against Donziger and is replete with factual errors and made-up scenes.

This "notice of defamation" letter written by Donziger explains some of the details of Barrett's sloppy and unethical journalistic practices. Usually missing from Barrett's stories is that Ecuador's Supreme Court (in the country where Chevron insisted the trial be held) unanimously affirmed the liability against Chevron in a 222-page decision meticulously documenting extensive contamination at hundreds of former company well sites. (See this summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron and this affidavit documenting some of the company's corruption.)

Barrett is now refusing to report on explosive new evidence from a related arbitration proceeding that strongly suggests Chevron's retaliatory RICO case has imploded in spectacular fashion. Others are reporting this news fully, but not Barrett. (See this powerful analysis from Amazon Watch, this article from Vice, and this article from Courthouse News.)

Here are some recent developments that severely damage Chevron's litigation prospects but are ignored by Barrett:

  • Chevron's main claim that the trial court judgment in Ecuador was "ghostwritten" by lawyers for the villagers has fallen apart. There was scant evidence of this other than the testimony from a corrupt and impoverished Ecuadorian witness (Alberto Guerra) paid $2 million by the oil company after having only $146 in his bank account; now Guerra admits under oath he lied on the stand during Chevron's RICO case about critical elements of his story.
  • Barrett has completely underplayed evidence from a computer forensic examination requested by Chevron in the arbitration proceeding that found the Ecuador trial judge saved the Word file that became the judgment on his own computer more than 400 times. Guerra had claimed the judgment was given to the judge by the plaintiffs on a flash drive just before it was issued. This evidence has been presented to the appellate court that oversees Kaplan.
  • Barrett also ignored that Guerra testified in Kaplan's RICO proceeding that the Ecuador trial judge promised him 20 percent of an alleged $500,000 bribe. In his arbitral testimony, Guerra confessed it was a total lie.
  • Guerra claimed he played a key role in the so-called ghostwriting. But he admitted he lied before Kaplan by claiming he made two trips to Lago Agrio to work on the judgment; in fact, those trips had nothing to do with the Chevron case. Again, silence from Barrett.
  • Guerra also conceded in his arbitral testimony that there is no evidence corroborating his allegations that the lawyers for the affected communities bribed the trial judge and wrote the judgment, which is Chevron's defense to actions to seize company assets to satisfy the Ecuador judgment. Guerra admitted he lied to Chevron to obtain more money from Chevron. "I lied there," he said. "I recognize it. I wasn't truthful." Again, nothing from Barrett.
In Canada, a trial to seize Chevron assets is proceeding. The villagers have filed a motion for summary judgment to knock out all of Chevron's defenses on the grounds they already were litigated and resolved by the court in Chevron's preferred forum of Ecuador. Barrett has yet to report on this development.

We suspect Barrett's recent retreat into silence has much to do with the fact developments are turning against Chevron. The company's trumped-up "fraud" narrative is the central thrust of Barrett's book and his prior reporting. To report that his main narrative is unraveling would further damage Barrett's credibility and would not be in his commercial interest.

Want to get a sense of what Businessweek's readers who rely on Barrett are missing? Read Eva Hershaw's account in Vice News in an article titled "Chevron's Star Witness Admits to Lying in the Amazon Pollution Case":
In testimony given before the international tribunal... Guerra has now admitted there is no evidence to corroborate allegations of a bribe or a ghostwritten judgment, and that large parts of his sworn testimony, used by Kaplan in the RICO case, were exaggerated and, in other cases, simply not true.
Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News reported that Guerra "repudiated much of his explosive testimony" and admitted to lying about a number of key facts. Marco Simons, an attorney with Earth Rights International, suggested that two Chevron lawyers, Randy Mastro and Avi Weitzman, might face criminal exposure for coaching Guerra for 53 days to present false testimony. (For more on how Chevron law firm Gibson Dunn has falsified evidence, see here.)

Chevron had no real answer for several days to these devastating setbacks. That's where Barrett stepped in to post a short story on the company's website that is nothing more than a tortured attempt to rehabilite the lying Guerra.

Barrett might be technically correct to point out that Guerra has not recanted his testimony that a bribe occurred, but Guerra has admitted to being such a serial liar about everything else that nothing he claims can be taken seriously. That's especially true when there is no corroborating evidence left to back up the central feature of his story.

Predictably, Chevron spokesperson Morgan Crinklaw has been pushing Barrett's latest defense of Guerra into social media as a surrogate statement for the company. Barrett's colleague Roger Parloff of Fortune -- himself silent about the unraveling of Chevron's "racketeering" case -- tweeted it. (For more on Parloff's own bias in favor of Chevron, see this blog and this analysis.) And Barrett took the extraordinary step of contacting another reporter via Twitter to challenge her reporting contesting Chevron's narrative.

Businessweek needs to assign a truly independent journalist to report this story. In the meantime, Barrett should consider joining Crinklaw in Chevron's public relations department. He could make a lot more money doing the same thing.

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