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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Office of inspector in Ecuador Chevron pollution suit burglarized

via, 03/04/08

QUITO, Ecuador - A court-appointed engineer in charge of determining whether Chevron Corp. caused environmental damage in the Ecuadoran jungle said Wednesday his offices were burglarized and three computers with information about the case stolen.

Richard Cabrera said his Quito office was broken into. Two desktop computers, a laptop, two printers and a digital camera were missing after the break-in, he said.

"It may be common criminals," he said.

"I don't blame any of the parties in this matter, that we'll leave" to the authorities.

Cabrera is preparing a report for a class-action suit filed against the San Ramon, Calif.-based company by 30,000 jungle settlers and natives. They are seeking $6 billion in cleanup costs for the jungle region where Texaco Petroleum Co. spent three decades extracting oil before it merged with Chevron in 2001.

Cabrera said he plans to hand in his final report on the alleged environmental damage in the last two weeks of January. The burglary "will not be an obstacle to my work," he said.

"I'm moving forward."

The suit alleges billions of litres of toxic wastewater were dumped in the jungle. Chevron denies the allegations and says Texaco, which ended its operations in 1992, followed Ecuadoran environmental laws in a $40-million cleanup, which the government approved in 1998.

Chevron has said Cabrera, who was appointed in June, is unqualified and the company has not received a fair trial in the Andean country, where President Rafael Correa has openly backed the plaintiffs.

A spokeswoman at Chevron's office in Ecuador said the company had no comment on the burglary. She spoke on condition of anonymity.

In November, Cabrera filed a letter with the court saying: "My life and the lives of my family, the lives of the technicians and other assistants in the report are in grave danger."

He said he felt "under pressure, watched."

California-based environmental organization Amazon Watch called on Chevron to publicly denounce "this apparent harassment."

"This is a deeply disturbing incident," said Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch's executive director said in an e-mailed statement.

Police in Quito confirmed the robbery report. The judge hearing the case, German Yanez, said he was unaware of the robbery.

After wending through U.S. federal courts for a decade, the legal battle shifted in 2003 to a makeshift courtroom in the Ecuadoran village Lago Agrio. A ruling is expected sometime next year but the appeals process could last up to three years after that.

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