Monday, August 2, 2010

Chevron Tries to Bribe a Journalist to Turn Corporate Spy in Ecuador

Today, The Atlantic published a bombshell of a short article from a writer in Mexico City named Mary Cuddehe. In rather straight-forward fashion – which still rings with the somewhat sinister drama that surely surrounded the events for her – Mary describes oil giant Chevron's attempts to recruit her as a corporate spy in an effort to undermine the lawsuit to hold the company accountable for massive contamination in Ecuador's rainforest.

Okay, actually Chevron didn't try to recruit her personally. Instead, Chevron hired the large corporate "risk consulting" firm Kroll, Inc. to hire Mary. For those keeping score, add Kroll to Chevron's long list of high-powered hired guns.

A Kroll recruiter named Sam invited Mary to travel from her home in Mexico City "for a long weekend at a luxury hotel in Bogotá," all-expenses-paid.

Sam/Kroll/Chevron proposed a very lucrative short-term gig posing as a journalist to try and dig up dirt on the plaintiffs who continue to suffer and die as a result of Chevron's poisoning of their environment.

Here's an excerpt:

The case truly began slipping away from Chevron when the Ecuadorian court assigned a single independent expert to assess the environmental damages. The expert settled on a $27.3 billion figure that Chevron alone would be held responsible for covering. A judgment could come as early as the first quarter of 2011, and at this stage, many believe Chevron will lose.   

Sam explained that once the company realized it was losing the PR battle, if not the whole war, it regrouped and hired Kroll. Based in New York, Kroll has a global network of employees, vast resources, and powerful connections. I heard one story about the son of a New York heiress who was snatched by his father and taken somewhere in the Middle East. After  months of fruitless searching, his mother turned to Kroll. The firm soon discovered that father and son were going to Cuba, where Kroll was able to negotiate the father's detainment. Given this reach, I knew Kroll could hire someone with a medical background, legal training, or at least some familiarity with Ecuador. But there was a reason they wanted me.

With one Google search, anyone could see that I was, in fact, a journalist. If I went to Lago Agrio as myself and pretended to write a story, no one would suspect that the starry-eyed young American poking around was actually shilling for Chevron.

After being offered $20,000 plus expenses for the six-week job, Mary is tempted, but makes the principled choice:

Part of me wanted to say yes. I was thrilled by the idea of a six-week paid adventure in the jungle, and I was curious about the case. Had the health study been fixed? Were the plaintiffs colluding with Beristain? Was Chevron desperate and paranoid, merely trying to smear its opponents? Despite my curiosity, I knew I had to say no. If I'm ever going to answer those questions, it will have to be in my role as a journalist, not as a corporate spy.

Facing a mountain of incontrovertible evidence, it seems that Chevron quit worrying about the facts long ago, and has focused on smoke and mirrors, lobbying, legal tricks, and attempts to corrupt the legal process itself.

In fact, at the same time Chevron tries to bribe a journalist to help them smear an expert who found higher-than-normal cancer rates in the area they polluted, the oil giant hides and pays a former Chevron contractor who was recorded bragging about tampering with evidence for the company.

Hopefully, her recent experience with Chevron's slimy hired guns has prepared Ms. Cuddehe to go to Ecuador and look for the one thing the oil giant doesn't want found: the unvarnished truth.

Read the entire article here.

– Han

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

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