Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is Chevron Paying Hush Money to Ecuador 'Dirty Tricks' Guy?

Diego Borja, self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' operative for Chevron in Ecuador is scheduled to appear in a San Francisco courtroom today to answer questions about his attempts to entrap a judge overseeing the monumental trial against the oil company.

But already, court documents filed in connection with the case seem to confirm what we've been alleging for many months – that Chevron is paying Borja big bucks to keep quiet about his activities aimed at disrupting the trial over Chevron's contamination in Ecuador.

As California legal newspaper the Daily Journal reported:

Since August 2009, Chevron paid Borja each month: a stipend of at least $5,000; more than $1,600 for rent and at least $700 in automobile payments. The company also apparently paid more than $45,000 in taxes for Borja and it has continued to pay the Berkeley law firm Arguedas, Cassman & Headley LLP to defend Borja in proceedings related to the litigation. It is unclear from the documents if Borja also received a monthly stipend of $10,000, which would bring the total to nearly $340,000.

At least some of the payments have been facilitated by Jones Day, one of the firms representing Chevron in litigation stemming from the Ecuadorean case. Information about the payments was revealed as the plaintiffs battle against a New York federal judge's order barring them from enforcing the $8.6 billion judgment they won against Chevron last month, which has grown to $9.5 billion to include an award to the plaintiffs' team.

The Daily Journal article continues:

"Generally fact witnesses can only be minimally compensated for their time and reasonable expenses in providing testimony," said Catherine A. Rogers, a professor at The Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University and an expert in international arbitration and professional ethics. "Rent does not seem to be at all within the boundaries of those parameters."

One of Chevron's attorneys, Robert A. Mittelstaedt, partner-in-charge of Jones Day's San Francisco office, declined to comment. Mittelstaedt has been one of the partners facilitating Chevron's payments to Borja.

Attorneys for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs obtained the information about the payments in response to discovery requests connected with their efforts to depose Borja in San Francisco federal court.

"Chevron and its attorneys apparently have taken Mr. Borja's threats to expose their apparent misdeeds very seriously," wrote New York attorney Julio C. Gomez and New Orleans attorney Carlos A. Zelaya II. "Based upon the documents obtained from Mr. Borja on March 3, Mr. Borja's personal happiness appears to be priority number one for Chevron and its lawyers at Jones Day."

The court documents cited by reporter Rebecca Beyer in her Daily Journal story were apparently briefly available through the court's website, but have now been placed under seal. The protective order in place will also surely cover transcripts of Borja's deposition today.

In September 2010, Judge Chen said that Chevron had "implicated" Borja as a witness to its claims against the courts in Ecuador, and ordered Borja to sit for a deposition by attorneys for the Republic of Ecuador, which is fighting Chevron's attempts to force the country into a binding arbitration. As I write this, I'm frankly unclear about whether that deposition has happened.

But if these official proceedings reveal the dirty tricks that Borja has bragged about in other contexts, the plaintiffs will likely ask Judge Chen to remove the protective order and unseal the documents showing Chevron's payments and other details, making it all publicly available.

And of course, if Borja implicates Chevron executives in his schemes, this deposition could create some very serious legal waves for people like current General Counsel Hewitt Pate and Charles James, who was Chevron's GC at the time Borja was concocting the sting operation, and Chevron's lawyers at Jones Day Tim Cullen and Robert Mittelstaedt, at whose San Francisco offices Borja had a meeting in the midst of his video-taping operation.

Borja was caught on tape talking about his dirty tricks operation –– including tampering with evidence, offering bribes, and attempts at entrapping a judge –– on behalf of his "bosses" at Chevron. A friend-turned-whistleblower named Santiago Escobar made recordings of Borja talking about how the company "cooked evidence" in the trial. In the recordings, Borja is heard explaining that if Chevron didn't take care of him, he would "immediately go to the other side... I have correspondence that talks about things you cannot even imagine, dude... I can't talk about them here, dude, because I'm afraid, but they're things that can make the [plaintiffs] win this just like that."

Escobar turned over the recordings to Ecuador's Prosecutor General's office and testified about Borja's admissions. The Prosecutor General's office is conducting its own investigation.

In the most infamous of Borja's operations to disrupt the trial – secretly videotaping the judge then presiding over the environmental trial – Borja collaborated with an American man named Wayne Hansen. When releasing the videos, Chevron described Hansen as an American businessman interested in securing contracts to remediate the oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. But an investigation by the plaintiffs revealed that Hansen had no experience in remediation and was in fact a convicted felon and drug trafficker with a long history as a scam artist.

Last month, after more than 17 years of litigation, an Ecuadorian court found Chevron liable for massive oil contamination of Ecuador's northeastern Amazon rainforest. The court ordered the oil giant to pay $9.5 billion for environmental cleanup, and to provide clean water and health care for the communities ravaged by the company's years of misconduct in the region.

– Han

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

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