Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Whistleblower Testifies Before Ecuador's Prosecutor General About Chevron's Dirty Tricks

Today in Quito, reporters packed a press conference called by Santiago Escobar, the high-profile whistleblower who yesterday testified before Ecuador's Prosecutor General about Chevron's attempts to corrupt the trial over its oil contamination of Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region.

News of Escobar's testimony –– and the evidence backing up his explosive allegations of Chevron's corruption –– has been headline news for the past couple days in Ecuador, where the ongoing trial is closely watched. Escobar, who now lives in Canada with his wife, was summoned to Quito by the office of the Public Prosecutor.

Mr. Escobar dropped a new bombshell on the assembled media this morning. Escobar described how his former friend, longtime Chevron contractor Diego Borja, confessed that he was involved in "clandestine activities" for Chevron to help "sink the lawsuit." In the latest shocking revelations, Escobar described Borja bragging to him that he had helped bribe corrupt military officers to issue phony security reports that resulted in the cancellation of a judicial inspection at a contaminated site during the trial.

Judicial inspections are official court proceedings that take place in the field at the site in question in the trial, and there has only been one inspection canceled in such a way. In 2005, the first judicial inspection scheduled for the indigenous territory of the Cofan people was canceled after Chevron attorneys filed a suspicious military report with the court alleging that there would be security risks to Chevron employees if the inspection was to proceed.

At the time, the Cofan –– one of the indigenous groups in the Ecuadorean Amazon devastated by Chevron's operations in their lands –– were peacefully mobilizing community members to train attention on the inspection. Reporters from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and other major media outlets were camped out at the Hotel Lago waiting to cover the event of historic importance.

After significant outcry about the cancellation, Ecuador's Ministry of National Defense conducted its own official inquiry into the incident. The investigation found that a Chevron security employee named Manuel Bravo had inappropriately pressured the head of intelligence for a Special Forces unit to produce the report. That intelligence officer was Arturo Velasco.

In the official report, Velasco writes,

"I was approached by a Texaco functionary and a Texaco security service employee and by an ex-military colleague, Captain (ret.) Manuel Bravo, who explained to me that they had to attend a judicial procedure in the Guanta sector with other Texaco functionaries..."

Now one has to wonder whether any of the "Texaco functionaries" was longtime Chevron contractor Diego Borja, or who else involved in this farce got a stack of money from him.

During the press conference, the whistleblower, Mr. Escobar said that he has known Diego Borja for 15 years, explaining that they ran in similar social circle in Quito. Escobar described how, for six years, Borja spoke openly about his relationship with Chevron and the "clandestine activities" that he carried out for the company. Escobar told the reporters that for some time, he didn't understand much about the issues, nor the level of what Borja was doing for Chevron.

According to Escobar, in June 2009, Borja had bragged to him that he had arranged "the biggest business deal of his life" and that he would "take down the lawsuit" and that he had received "a ton of money." Less than two months later, Chevron released videos secretly taped by Diego Borja that the company claimed exposed corruption implicating the judge presiding over the trial. Soon, the phony corruption scandal –– concocted by Diego Borja along with an American convicted felon and drug trafficker named Wayne Hansen –– began to unravel. And Escobar, disgusted, began to record his conversations with his friend, Chevron's dirty tricks guy.

So, over several months last year, Escobar made more than six hours of tape recordings of his conversations with Diego Borja in which Borja confesses that Chevron “cooked” evidence in the trial and that Borja could ensure a victory by the Amazon communities if Chevron failed to pay him what he was promised for concocting the phony corruption scandal to smear the Ecuadorean courts.

At today’s press conference, Santiago Escobar said that he testified before Ecuador's Prosecutor General that Borja admitted that he tampered with evidence, switching out contaminated samples for samples free of contamination before submitting them to the testing lab. He or his wife Sara Portilla –– who worked for the U.S. lab that Chevron used for testing –– would then submit the samples and test results to the court.

Expanding on previously released evidence to the reporters, Mr. Escobar said, "For example, one time, in his office, where the 'independent laboratories' operated that did the analysis of soil samples that are the evidence that supposedly 'vindicates' Chevron, he told me, 'look, we didn't take these samples from the contaminated sites, we took them from between 10-30 kilometers away from there.'"

Escobar continued, "In this office, there were three tables and some big industrial refrigerators where they kept the samples... they themselves got the insurance, they themselves sent the samples by DHL to the United States, they did everything. So, apparently, the laboratory, which is not independent because it was run by his wife, supports and justifies the remediation, and that the reason people are dying is because of contamination."

Escobar had previously released recordings and saved MSN chats of Borja bragging about how he set up at least four 'front' companies to manage Chevron's testing of contamination samples during the trial, how his wife worked for a U.S.-based lab that Chevron used for testing samples, how he lied to gain entry to the lab where the plaintiffs were testing their samples with his Florida-based Chevron boss (the company's Latin America offices are based in Coral Gables), and how Chevron is paying him the equivalent of $10,000 U.S. per month in Ecuador, and paying the rent on a $6,000/month house in a gated community minutes from Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, CA, where he isn't subject to a subpoena from the court in Ecuador hearing the case against Chevron.

As I've written in previous posts here, Borja also told Escobar that he has damning evidence stored on his iPhone, and hidden in Ecuador, that would destroy Chevron's defense in the trial once and for all. He says his wife knows all about the evidence too. It's time for Chevron's dirty tricks guy Diego Borja –– still hiding out on the company's dime –– to go back to Ecuador and tell the truth.

Sometimes it seems that Chevron can't stoop any lower in its efforts to evade responsibility for massive suffering in Ecuador.

And then, somehow, they find the 'Human Energy' to plumb new depths.

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

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