In the past several months, attorneys for the oil company have tried to raise doubts over claims made by the plaintiffs alleging environmental damage by Texaco (currently owned by Chevron) in the Ecuadorian rainforest. With a verdict expected soon in that multibillion-dollar lawsuit, Chevron filed a racketeering lawsuit yesterday against the legal team representing the plaintiffs. The federal lawsuit filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) alleged that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs and their legal team aim to “extort (Chevron) into paying to stop the campaign against it". Furthermore, Chevron seeks a court order making any decision against the company in Ecuador unenforceable in the U.S.
Among those named as defendants in the RICO suit are lawyer Pablo Fajardo and community organizer Luis Yanza who both received the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize for their work on the Ecuadorian case. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs accused Chevron of “corporate bullying at its worse.”
According to one analyst interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, the aim of the RICO suit may not be to seek a verdict but instead to put pressure on the Ecuadorians:
“The idea (behind the RICO statues) was to go after organized crime rings, but if you look at the law on its face, there are a number of situations it might cover that Congress might not have intended," said Sean Hecht, executive director of the Environmental Law Center at UCLA.The lawsuit against Chevron has been filled with plenty of twists and turns; for instance, the firm won access to outtakes from a documentary about the lawsuit despite the objections of the filmmaker.
He questioned whether Chevron's suit might be a form of SLAPP, a strategic lawsuit against public participation. Such suits are designed primarily to apply pressure to the opposing side, rather than to win a judgment.
A Chevron ad campaign touting their corporate responsibility was satirically targeted by “activist-performers” The Yes Men last year.
Image- Dolores Ochoa R. / Associated Press via SFGate.com (“Indigenous women stand near an oil pit in 2005 in Ecuador, center of an 18-year legal battle with Chevron.”)
Online Sources- SFGate.com, Law.com, The Latin Americanist, FT.com, Reuters