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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ecuadoran official accuses Chevron of 'interference'

QUITO — Ecuador's prosecutor office has accused Chevron of "interference" in the country's legal system after the oil giant denounced an alleged "politicization" of the judicial system.

Chevron faces claims it is responsible for damage in the Amazon rainforest caused by oil extraction between 1964 and 1990 by Texaco, a company it bought in 2001. Experts estimate that Chevron could be liable for damages of up to 27 billion dollars.

"Chevron's whimsical view that... there is government interference and politicization of justice is a grotesque and abusive interference in the Ecuadoran justice system," Attorney General Washington Pesantez said in a statement Thursday.

Chevron said earlier that there was "interference" from the Ecuadoran government in the case as well as the "complete politicization of the judicial system."

The statement came after Pesantez sought action through the US Justice Department for possible violations of US federal law over Chevron's actions after the company released videos allegedly showing politicians paying off the judge in the high-profile environmental case.

"US federal law punishes any US citizen or entity that commits corrupt acts abroad, which Chevron may well have done," his office said in a statement.

The US oil giant denied making the videos and said Ecuador was trying to deflect attention from the facts of the case.

One week ago Chevron posted on its website videos it said showed members of President Rafael Correa's ruling Alianza Pais party promising a three-million-dollar "commission" to Juan Nunez, the judge presiding over the case, if he hands down a verdict against the oil giant.

The videos provoked a firestorm and rebuttals by government officials, and prompted Nunez to ask to recuse himself from the case.

Chevron's release of the footage, shot on hidden cameras, came shortly before Nunez was expected to announce his verdict on the case in October.

Pesantez defended the investigation that the prosecutor's office has begun surrounding Chevron's accusations, and added that the court in the northeastern province of Sucumbios, where the case is being handled, "will take the related decisions independently."

Meanwhile Ecuadoran prosecutors "will act with diligence and not fall for the chicanery that Chevron is allegedly creating," the statement added.

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