Lawyers representing Amazonian villagers in Ecuador used bribes to secure compensation worth billions of dollars from Chevron, a US judge has ruled today.
The latest ruling means that the Amazonian villagers cannot use US courts to enforce the ruling against Chevron.
Chevron had been found guilty in Ecuador of causing environmental damage to the Lago Agrio region.
The legal team says they will appeal.
In 2011, an Ecuadorean judge ordered Chevron to pay $18.2 billion for “extensively polluting” the Lago Agrio region.
Ecuador’s highest court last year upheld the verdict against Chevron, but reduced the amount of compensation to $9.5 billion.
The alleged environmental damage was done by Texaco between 1964 and 1990. Texaco was later acquired by Chevron.
Chevron has always maintained that it cleaned up the area before handing over the oil field to the Ecuadorean government.
Lawyers representing Amazonian villagers in Ecuador used bribes to secure compensation worth billions of dollars from Chevron
The oil company argued that it only lost the case because the legal team representing the villagers paid nearly $300,000 in bribes in Ecuador.
US district judge Lewis Kaplan in New York has now ruled that Steven Donziger’s legal team used “corrupt means” to win the 2011 case.
Lewis Kaplan described the evidence against Steven Donziger’s team as “voluminous”.
Chevron’s chief executive, John Watson, hailed the ruling as “a resounding victory for Chevron and its shareholders”.
The legal team representing the Ecuadorean villagers has also sued Chevron in Brazil, Argentina and Canada.
But Chevron believes the US judge decision will help them fight their case in other courts.
Some 30,000 local residents, including five different Amazonian tribes, began the lawsuit against Texaco in 1993.
The plaintiffs say that the oil company knowingly dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water and spilled 17 million gallons of crude oil into the rainforest during its operations in north-east Ecuador.
They say the affected area covers 1,700 sq miles on the border with Colombia.
Local residents believe the pollution has led to health problems such as cancer and birth defects.
Rafael Correa has been re-elected for a third term as Ecuador’s president with more than 50% of the vote.
His main challenger, Guillermo Lasso, has admitted defeat.
Addressing his supporters in the capital, Quito, Rafael Correa, 49, called for “another four years of revolution”.
First elected in 2007, the socialist leader is widely credited with bringing political stability to a nation that suffered decades of protests and coups.
But critics accuse Rafael Correa of being a dictator in the making.
Rafael Correa, a US-trained economist, has been accused of implementing policies that have served to strengthen his hold on power and erode the influence of political opponents and private media.
But his so-called “citizens’ revolution” has made him popular with many ordinary Ecuadoreans and has won him friends among other Latin American left-wing leaders.
Partial results give Rafael Correa 56.7%, ahead of 23.3% for his nearest rival, former banker Guillermo Lasso. The third-placed challenger was poised to take 6.6%, with four others trailing below 5%.
To avoid a run-off, the president needs to win 50% of the total vote or 40% plus a 10-point margin over the second-placed candidate.
Rafael Correa has been re-elected for a third term as Ecuador’s president with more than 50 percent of the vote
Speaking on TV after 40% of the votes had been counted, the head of the National Electoral Council said the final result would not be significantly larger or smaller.
President Rafael Correa was quick to claim victory.
“Nobody can stop this revolution,” he told a crowd of supporters gathered outside the balcony of the Carondelet Palace in Quito.
“The colonial powers are not in charge anymore, you can be sure that in this revolution it’s Ecuadoreans who are in charge.”
“We are here to serve you,” he added.
“Nothing for us, everything for you: the people who deserve the right to be free.
“This is not just a victory for Ecuador, this is a victory for the great homeland of Latin America.”
During his six years in power, Rafael Correa has expanded access to healthcare and education and improved thousands of miles of highways, creating many jobs in the process. Poverty rates have dropped significantly.
Critics say that, since coming to office, he has filled the courts and government positions with allies and stifled free speech by taking on the media.
They also complain he has restricted free enterprise with heavy taxation and regulatory changes and taken government spending to an unsustainable level.
Rafael Correa is close to Venezuela and Cuba and has sought to establish ties with Iran and China. Last year, he upset the US, Britain and Sweden by granting asylum to wanted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
“I don’t recognize the current Correa. He is a different person. He is not the friend I used to have, that I used to love like a brother,” said Alberto Acosta, one of the co-founders of the Alianza Pais governing party and now an opposition candidate.
“He controls everything. He is a sort of Sun King of the 21st Century,” he said referring to France’s King Louis XIV.
Since 2007, Rafael Correa has re-written the country’s constitution: a move that allowed him to run for, and win, a new term in 2009. He is legally barred from running again after this election, the Associated Press reports.
The Ecuadorean government said it had granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum because it shared his fears of political persecution and the possible consequences of an eventual extradition to the United States.
“There are serious indications of retaliation from the country or countries that produced the information published by Mr. Assange; retaliation that could endanger his safety, integrity and even his life,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ricardo Patino.
“The evidence shows that if Mr. Assange is extradited to the United States, he wouldn’t have a fair trial.
“It is not at all improbable he could be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and sentenced to life imprisonment or even capital punishment,” he added.
Most supporters of the WikiLeaks founder share this belief.
And Julian Assange knew he could count Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa among those supporters, even before he walked into the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The Ecuadorean government said it had granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum because it shared his fears of political persecution
But according to Santiago Basabe, a professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Rafael Correa’s reasons go beyond his declared interest in protecting Julian Assange’s rights.
“It is important to understand that this event was the conclusion of a very long negotiation between Mr. Assange and the Ecuadorean government,” he said.
“Many see Mr. Assange as somebody who has fought for freedom of speech and freedom of opinion, which are also key components of the Ecuadorean government official discourse.
“By granting him asylum, the government was trying to prove it really cares about freedom of opinion and freedom of the press, at a moment when Ecuador has been strongly criticized, both nationally and internationally, for the way the national government understands democracy,” Prof. Santiago Basabe added.
In Ecuador, however, not everybody is convinced the country’s international image will be better off as a result.
The private media and a large majority of opinion makers – traditionally opposed to President Rafael Correa – warned that Ecuador had very little to win from a positive response to Julian Assange’s request.
For instance, Ecuador has been trying to secure a commercial agreement with the European Union and many fear that picking a fight with the United Kingdom and Sweden will not help.
And they will certainly try to use the whole issue against Rafael Correa as he seeks re-election in February 2013.
Former President Lucio Gutierrez has even suggested that Rafael Correa’s real intention is to use Julian Assange’s hacking skills to steal the elections.
But according to Santiago Basabe, Rafael Correa does not need to resort to such strategies to stay in power.
“The possibility of President Correa losing the February voting is very low,” he said, while also noting that a small majority of Ecuadoreans supported Julian Assange’s asylum request anyway.
And the possibility of the British authorities storming into the Ecuadorean embassy in London to capture Julian Assange, raised on Wednesday by Foreign Minister Patino, has provided Correa supporters with a powerful rallying cry.
“This is a decision of a sovereign government, which doesn’t have to ask for British permission to act,” said Rosana Alvarado, a representative in the National Assembly of the official Alianza Pais party.
“I hope the Ecuadorean people will remain united and reject any form of colonialism,” said Paco Velasco, also from Alianza Pais.
To a large extent, however, repercussions will depend on the reaction of the British and Swedish governments – and, of course, of the United States.
And very few people seem to believe the WikiLeaks founder will ever make it to South America.
Ecuador has granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange two months after he took refuge in country’s London embassy while fighting extradition from the UK.
It said there were fears Julian Assange’s human rights might be violated.
Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino accused the UK of making an “open threat” to enter its embassy to arrest him.
Julian Assange took refuge at the embassy in June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over assault and rape claims, which he denies.
The Foreign Office said the decision on Julian Assange’s application for political asylum would not affect the UK’s legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden.
It tweeted: “We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act.”
Ecuador has granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange two months after he took refuge in country’s London embassy
The UK government will still seek to arrest him and it will not grant him safe passage. If he steps out, he will be arrested.
Announcing Ecuador’s decision, Ricardo Patino said the country believed Julian Assange’s fears of political persecution were “legitimate”.
He said the country was being loyal to its tradition of protecting those who were vulnerable.
“We trust that our friendship with the United Kingdom will remain intact,” he added.
The announcement was watched live by Julian Assange and embassy staff in a link to a press conference from Quito.
Outside Ecuador’s embassy in London, news was slowly spreading through Julian Assange’s assembled supporters and they were delighted.
“The political temperature has risen very significantly. It is clear this is only the beginning of a very long legal contest,” he said.
There was now a “complete standoff” between the UK and Ecuador regarding the status of the embassy in London.
The British government now had to make a decision, adding that the risks were enormous – including making other embassies around the world vulnerable.
Julian Assange entered the embassy after the UK’s Supreme Court dismissed the Australian national’s bid to reopen his appeal against extradition and gave him a two-week grace period before extradition proceedings could start.
It was during that fortnight, while on bail, that he sought refuge.
A subsequent offer by Ecuador to allow Swedish investigators to interview Julian Assange inside the embassy was rejected.
The WikiLeaks website Julian Assange founded published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments, particularly the US’s, in 2010.
Earlier, the UK Foreign Office warned it could lift the embassy’s diplomatic status to fulfill a “legal obligation” to extradite the 41-year-old by using the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.
That allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of an embassy on UK soil, which would potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Julian Assange for breaching the terms of his bail.
Julian Assange says he fears that if extradited to Sweden, he will then be passed on to the American authorities.
In 2010, two female ex-WikiLeaks volunteers accused Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, of committing sexual offences against them while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture.
Julian Assange claims the sex was consensual and the allegations are politically motivated.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, the country’s foreign minister has said.
“Ecuador is studying and analyzing the request,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in Quito.
On 14 June, Britain’s Supreme Court dismissed Julian Assange’s bid to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes.
He has denied the allegations, saying they are politically motivated.
The Supreme Court has given him until 28 June before extradition proceedings can start.
Swedish prosecutors want to question him over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two female former Wikileaks volunteers in mid-2010 but have not filed any charges.
Julian Assange, whose Wikileaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, claims the sex was consensual.
Julian Assange is seeking political asylum at Ecuador's London embassy
In a statement, Ecuador’s embassy said he had arrived there on Tuesday afternoon to seek asylum.
“As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito,” it said.
“While the department assesses Mr. Assange’s application, Mr. Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government.”
It said the decision to consider the bid for asylum “should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.”
Julian Assange issued a statement, saying he was “grateful to the Ecuadorean ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application”.
Associated Press quoted Ricardo Patino as telling reporters Julian Assange had written to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa saying he was being persecuted.
Ricardo Patino said that the Australian had claimed “the authorities in his country will not defend his minimum guarantees in front of any government”.
Julian Assange said he would not be protected from being extradited to “a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition,” Ricardo Patino said.
The anti-secrecy campaigner fears extradition to Sweden may lead to him being sent to the US to face separate charges relating to Wikileaks, for which he could face the death penalty.
But Swedish authorities have said the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) would intervene if Julian Assange was to face the prospect of “inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial” in the US.
Julian Assange could still take his case against extradition to the ECHR and has until 28 June to make the move.
Vaughan Smith, a friend who put Julian Assange up at his Norfolk home until December 2011, said he understood why he was seeking asylum.
“There’s been an organized campaign to undermine him in recent months in Britain,” Vaughan Smith said.
“And he believed he would not get justice in Sweden.”
Wikileaks has posted an alert on its Twitter feed: “ALERT: Julian Assange has requested political asylum and is under the protection of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.”
It said Ecuador had offered asylum as early as November 2010.
Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister said in 2010 his country was offering Julian Assange residency because it wanted to give him the opportunity to freely present the information he had.
However, President Rafael Correa subsequently dismissed the idea, which he said neither he nor Ricardo Patino had approved.