Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chevron's PR ploy backfires; details dirty dealings in Ecuador

Approaching the two-year anniversary of one of Chevron's dirtiest tricks in its 18-year effort to escape responsibility for its oil disaster in Ecuador, shocking emails and a major misstep by a Chevron spokesman threaten to blow the whole affair wide open.

Explosive emails from Wayne Hansen, an American con-man who partnered with a Chevron contractor in an attempt to entrap a judge presiding in the trial over the company's contamination in Ecuador, reveal that Hansen believes he has been "duped" by the oil giant, "left out" of a "deal" offered to his Ecuadorian partner-in-crime, and now fears for his life.

In the weeks after he and an Ecuadorian Chevron contractor named Diego Borja executed their scheme, Hansen writes to his contact at Chevron:

"I have been waiting for your call, you said you would call me. ... It seems that the oil co has cut a deal with Diego and I have not heard a word from anyone but Diego. What am I to think?"
Photo: Wayne Hansen, now 62, as a young convict

In the summer of 2009, Hansen, a convicted drug trafficker with a history of legal troubles and involvement in crooked schemes, teamed up with Diego Borja, an Ecuadorian with long and deep ties to Chevron and its subsidiary in Ecuador.

Their plan? Use false pretenses to get a meeting with Judge Juan Nuñez, then presiding over the case against Chevron in Ecuador, and concoct a phony "bribery scandal" that would derail the monumental trial, and earn the two gratitude—and a handsome payout—from the deep-pocketed oil giant.

Hansen claimed he owned a remediation company seeking oil pollution clean-up contracts, and Borja went through local contacts to ask the judge to meet with them as a favor, in order to help his "American businessman friend" better understand the complex case.

In the secret video recordings, the judge clearly loses patience with Borja and Hansen's increasingly leading questions. At least a dozen times the judge refuses to say how he will rule in the case, and nowhere in the recordings does the judge accept a bribe, which comes in an awkward offer from faux businessman Hansen to share future profits from clean-up contracts.

The total lack of wrongdoing on Judge Nuñez's part didn't stop Chevron—whose lawyers met with Borja in San Francisco in the midst of their sting operation—from deceitfully proclaiming that it had been alerted to a "bribery scandal" implicating the judge and the Ecuadorian judiciary, posting the videos to youtube and issuing breathless press releases.

The scandal began immediately to unravel upon scrutiny by the media. The New York Times, reporting on the story, wrote, simply, "No bribes were shown in the tapes," and before long, a former friend of Diego Borja's stepped forward with stories of Borja bragging about doing "dirty tricks" for Chevron. The whistleblower even made recordings of Borja admitting to "cooking evidence" in the case for Chevron.

Hansen's explosive emails came to light in an article posted on Friday by legal news outlet Courthouse News, covering the latest from a federal court in San Francisco overseeing attempts to learn more about the sordid Borja-Hansen-Chevron affair.

To defend its judiciary in arbitration proceedings launched by Chevron, the Ecuadorian government hopes to use evidence it has obtained through subpoenas served to Diego Borja and his associates. The indigenous and campesino plaintiffs who won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron for massive contamination of their rainforest communities are also trying to get at the evidence, hoping to defend their legal victory, and show the pattern of Chevron's misconduct in its many attempts to disrupt the trial, and defame the company's opponents.

In July 2009, weeks before Chevron went public with Borja and Hansen's spy videos, Hansen wrote to his mysterious Chevron handler:

"As I can see the window of life coming to a close I will not hold back. I need to hear from a real player with a plan for Wayne [Hansen]. If I do not hear from the oil co. by July 17, 09 I must think I have been left out and I am to do what and think what ... I have been dooped [sic] ... I must go and see Judge Nunez to explain and ask forgiveness as I am sure my life will be in danger a care only to me."

Incredible. Only weeks after helping execute the spy-camera sting against Judge Nuñez, Hansen is ready to ask the judge for his forgiveness, sure that he's been duped, and fearing for his life.

But wait. How did the Courthouse News reporter see these emails, when such communications and documents have been placed under seal by the federal judge?

That seal has been challenged by lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, whose own materials have been taken out of context, and spread far and wide by Chevron's PR machine in an attempt to discredit them. But the court has so far been resolute in keeping the potentially damning Borja-Hansen materials sealed and out of view of the public, as the legal battle continues.

As it turns out, the emails were apparently excerpted in a sealed order from the San Francisco-based federal judge, and as detailed in a sworn declaration filed with the court, that confidential document was sent to the Courthouse News reporter by Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson.

What? Why in the world would Chevron send this order—with the explosive emails from con-man Hansen to his Chevron handler—to a reporter?! Well, it seems that Kent Robertson missed the forest for the trees, focusing on a small finding by the judge that he viewed as a victory for Chevron, while overlooking how revealing the emails are about Chevron's sleazy actions.

Photo: Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson

As US-based spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs Karen Hinton told the reporter:

"Chevron's apparent disclosure of sealed court materials is clearly unlawful and potentially punishable by sanctions. This is the latest sad chapter in an ongoing campaign by a big oil company to use unethical litigation tactics to cover-up its environmental crimes in Ecuador that are devastating the lives of thousands of people."

But Kent Robertson's reckless disclosure could mean a lot more than a contempt of court sanction. It could legally mean that Chevron has forfeited any sort of attorney-client privilege it has previously asserted to keep the materials sought by the plaintiffs out of the public view. In fact, lawyers for the plaintiffs have already filed motions asking the court to find, among other things that Kent Robertson's disclosure of the sealed documents essentially waives "attorney-client privilege and other protections or immunities" and asks the court to "dissolve the protective order governing disclosure of Diego Borja's discovery materials."

According to the brief filed by lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs:

Chevron has violated the express terms of the Protective Order by selectively disclosing material within the Order’s purview in a misguided and futile effort to rescue the company’s image in the face of the mounting evidence that Chevron engineered a judicial entrapment scheme in Ecuador. Chevron abuse of the Protective Order are reason alone for the Court to re- evaluate that Order’s efficacy. The Protective Order should not be a one-way street: if the Ecuadorian Plaintiffs are required to file materials under seal or are restricted as to the persons who can receive such materials, Chevron should not at the same time be permitted to transmit protected materials to journalists and media outlets or post protected materials on Chevron’s corporate website.

The brief continues:

The facts surrounding Chevron’s back-room orchestration of a judicial entrapment scheme are monumentally important. But under this Court’s Protective Order, while Chevron picks and chooses at will the sealed documents it shares with the media, highly relevant discovery materials cannot be shared with anyone other than co-counsel and experts, while other documents... are completely shrouded under a Protective Order cloak and must be filed under seal.

In its conclusion, the brief mentions Chevron's payments to Borja, potentially as much as a jaw-dropping $340,000, according to a story in the legal publication The Daily Journal:

Given the extreme gravity of the charges of judicial misconduct raised by Chevron and Borja, the public (in the United States and Ecuador) should have the right to access Court files related to Chevron’s self-described “witness payments” – payments that began after Diego Borja intimated in a recorded conversation that he possessed evidence of Chevron’s litigation misconduct.

Borja told his former friend-turned-whistleblower that he could "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."

Photo: Chevron's self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' operative in Ecuador, Diego Borja

What explosive details remain hidden in the "correspondence" he refers to? How much has Chevron paid Diego Borja to keep quiet? What kind of deal did con-man Wayne Hansen think he had with Chevron when he helped Borja conduct the video-sting operation against Judge Nuñez, to whom Hansen now believes he owes an apology?

Who else at Chevron was in on this scheme? Current General Counsel Hewitt Pate, or Charles James, who was Chevron's GC at the time of the sting operation? Or maybe Chevron's big-gun lawyers at Jones Day, Tim Cullen and Robert Mittelstaedt, at whose San Francisco offices Borja had a meeting in the midst of their scheme?

The emails from Wayne Hansen highlighted in last week's Courthouse News story are shocking enough on their own. But it seems to me that Chevron PR hack Kent Robertson's bone-headed attempt to once again twist and abuse court proceedings to serve the company's dishonest media narrative may backfire in a BIG WAY.

Will this blow wide open the sordid details of Chevron's scandalous efforts to evade accountability for one of the worst environmental disasters in history? We'll be doing our best to see that it does. Stay tuned.

Background on Diego Borja, Wayne Hansen, and Chevron's Phony Bribery Scandal in Ecuador:

San Francisco Daily Journal, September 14, 2010:
With Discovery Bid, Ecuador Turns Tables On Chevron

Amazon Defense Coalition press release, September 14, 2010:
Lawsuit Targets Chevron "Dirty Tricks" Operative Over Ecuador Video Corruption Scandal

The whistleblower report on Diego Borja, including recordings of him spilling the beans to his childhood friend about his involvement in Chevron's systematic attempts to corrupt the trial:
Chevron's Dirty Tricks Operative in Ecuador, Diego Borja: Whistleblower Report

And for further background, read two Huffington Post articles I wrote:

First, I blew the lid off the whole supposed "corruption scandal" only days after Chevron announced it last fall:
Chevron's 'Dirty Tricks Operation' in the Amazon

Then I revealed the shockingly shady past of Diego Borja's convicted felon, drug-trafficker, partner-in-crime Wayne Hansen:
Chevron's Man in Ecuador: Felon, Drug-Trafficker, and Liar, Oh My!


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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You Shouldn’t Trust Your Car to the Men Who Wore the Star

Maybe I need to update my 'google alerts' or remember to go a-searching on the topic more consistently but somehow, I missed a great article from last week, which I will excerpt and link to below. It's a long and thoughtful article on Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador by a straight-shooting and often funny dude named Jamie Kitman. Jamie is no internal combustion engine-hating Luddite. In fact, he's a big car buff and award-winning writer on all things automotive. Besides writing for outlets like the Guardian and GQ, he's even the New York Bureau Chief for Automobile Magazine (Automobile Magazine has bureaus?!). Strangely enough, he also happens to be the long-time manager of brilliant NYC art-rock band They Might Be Giants, whose epic breakthrough hit "Don't Let's Start" inspired enthusiastic sing-alongs by me and my high-school friends as we drove around in my first car, a hand me-down Pontiac station wagon. But that's another story. Anyway, Jamie posted his article on the blog of CarTalk, as in the beloved NPR call-in radio program, with Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers. So, without further ado:

If you’re the sort of person who stopped filling up at BP stations after the Gulf Horizon disaster, here’s hoping you’re not shopping for gasoline at Chevron, owner of Texaco, instead. The companies’ behavior in Ecuador over the last 37 years, and in the nearly 20-year lawsuit brought against Texaco (purchased by Chevron in 2001) by victims of its epic despoiling of the area, is right up there with the worst in the oil industry’s oversubscribed Hall of Shame. In fact, it may even make BP look good.

Now you may have missed the latest wrinkles in the Chevron-Texaco case — Donald Trump’s run for the presidency was brewing as they came down — so, perhaps, like the American media, you were distracted. Or maybe you are resigned to expecting appalling behavior from oil companies. But the record reveals that Texaco and Chevron have outdone themselves even by the low standards of their industry.

Read the rest of this informative article here, and share it via email, facebook, twitter, and what have you. Enjoy.

– Han

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Oil Company Takes Responsibility for Poisoning Poor People in Developing World; No Reports of Flying Pigs

Yesterday, hell did not freeze over. Pigs (or if you're Italian, donkeys) were not seen flying through the air on gossamer wings.

What did happen yesterday?

A major oil company accepted responsibility for terrible oil contamination affecting poor villagers in a remote part of a developing country, promising to pay for remediation of the damage done, and compensation to the communities harmed.

Stop the presses! Has Chevron finally seen the light? Will the California oil behemoth finally do the right thing?!

Actually, it wasn't Chevron in Ecuador. It was Shell in Nigeria.

In April, a lawsuit was brought on behalf of tens of thousands of people in and around the town of Bodo, in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta. They demanded clean-up of two massive oil spills that occurred months apart in late 2008 and early 2009, that devastated farmland and mangroves, and flowed into a large network of creeks and inlets, poisoning the drinking water and destroying the livelihood of this fishing community.

Last week, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, said:

SPDC accepts responsibility under the Oil Pipelines Act for the two oil spills both of which were due to equipment failure. SPDC acknowledges that it is liable to pay compensation - to those who are entitled to receive such compensation.

Preliminary estimates suggest that Shell could be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and compensation for the communities living amidst the spills.

This hardly represents a solution to the plight of the people of Ogoniland and the larger Niger Delta, where oil operations have ravaged the environment and devastated local communities (see more on the report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme here, here, and here).

But we hope Chevron is watching this latest turn of events, with Shell stepping up in this case to do the right thing.

For the sake of the tens of thousands of people in the Ecuadorian Amazon who suffer from oil contamination like their brothers and sisters in the Niger Delta, we hope that Chevron will take a page from Shell's playbook; accept responsibility for the damage you have caused and get to work fixing it.

If you're not on the email list for Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, sign up now, and stay tuned for ways you can take action to demand Chevron takes responsibility for its disaster in the Amazon.

– Han

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