In March 2014, U.S. Judge Lewis Kaplan determined that the US$9.5 billion in compensation awarded to a group of Ecuadoreans for environmental contamination in the Amazon as the result of Chevron's oil extraction activities had been secured fraudulently.
Kaplan's ruling was largely predicated on the testimony of a man named Albero Guerra, who claimed that the presiding Ecuadorean judge, Nicolas Zambrano, had offered to write an agreement favorable to the plaintiffs in exchange for a US$500,000 bribe, which Guerra expected to also cash in on.
Judge Kaplan, citing an alleged violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, was convinced by Guerra's testimony, believing that he “ghostwrote” the judgment on Zambrano's behalf.
In his ruling, Kaplan stated that the "evidence leads to one conclusion: Guerra told the truth regarding the bribe and the essential fact as to who wrote the judgment. The Court is convinced that the (plaintiffs) bribed Zambrano and wrote the judgment in their favor.”
However, in testimony given before an international tribunal in Washington, D.C., in April and May 2015, and just released Monday, Guerra's assertion that Zambrano offered to participate in a bribe seemingly collapsed under scrutiny by Eric Bloom, a member of Ecuador's legal team at the tribunal.
During his testimony, Guerra admitted that he was motivated by personal financial interest.
Guerra: Sincerely, if that situation ensued, I was hoping to obtain a financial benefit of some sort myself.
Bloom: A bribe?
Guerra: It pains me to say it. I recognize it: A bribe.
This latest revelation only adds to suspicions regarding Guerra's testimony.
No physical evidence exists to corroborate Guerra's claims that he was soliciting a bribe on Zambrano's behalf. Guerra also admitted under oath that he lied in order to better position himself in negotiations with Chevron.
Bloom: And among the ways you tried to leverage your position was to falsely tell the Chevron representatives that the Plaintiffs had offered you US$300,000; isn't that right?
Guerra: Yes, sir. I lied there. I recognize it. I wasn't truthful. That statement was never made by the representatives of the Plaintiffs.
Zambrano has also consistently denied the accusations. Judge Kaplan, however, determined that Zambrano was not credible, yet he deemed Guerra's testimony admissible.
In his written ruling, Kaplan admits that the court held “skepticism” regarding “Guerra’s testimony, character, and motives.” Yet Kaplan goes on to argue that he was “entitled to believe part or even most of the testimony even of one who, it concludes, deliberately has lied under oath as to other particulars.”
"(Guerra) became a partial witness in exchange for money, and this testimony became the basis that a North American judge used to determine there was corruption in this case," Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told Vice News.
Activists have accused Kaplan of being biased against the Ecuadorean plaintiffs and acting out of personal interest. Kaplan holds shares in mutual funds, which in turn hold securities in Chevron.
Furthermore, Guerra admitted under oath that he is now living in the United States on Chevron's dime. On top of being paid US$12,000 a month, Chevron is also covering Guerra's legal bills and taxes.
"It is unbelievable, really unbelievable, that an ex-judge would accept resources directly from Chevron to speak in favor of the company, and to denounce the Ecuadorean justice system that he himself was part of," Patiño told Vice.
In an interview with teleSUR, Santiago Escobar, an Ecuadorean citizen who helped expose Chevron's alleged attempts at defrauding the Ecuadorean justice system, said Chevon's actions are par for the course for the oil giant.
“We already knew about Chevron's dirty hand, this is not the first plot that backfires Chevron. This time Guerra has been exposed all by himself, reaffirming prior accusations of having been paid by Chevron to lie on their behalf,” Escobar told teleSUR.
Escobar helped expose the efforts of Chevron contractor Diego Borja to delegitimize the Ecuadorean judicial system. Like Guerra, Borja claimed to have proof that there was a bribery scheme afoot.
Escobar was meant to be one of the witnesses called during the case before Judge Kaplan in order to help establish a pattern of behavior by Chevron. Kaplan, however, precluded Escobar's testimony.
“He is protecting the oil company's image and hiding their systematic corruption,” Escobar said of Judge Kaplan.
“Guerra, like Diego Borja, was paid by Chevron under the pretense that they were denouncing alleged 'corruption.' It is clear that Chevron, in its desperation, is creating false witnesses. The RICO Act should be applied against Chevron for their corrupt actions.”
Kaplan's ruling meant that the Ecuadorean plaintiffs could not try to enforce the ruling and collect the US$9.5 billion in the United States. With Chevron no longer holding any assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs have sought to collect in other counties, with their efforts proving most fruitful in Canada.
In an interview with Vice News, a spokesperson for Chevron maintained that the proceeding at the international tribunal instead affirms their allegations that the ruling was “ghostwritten.” The company claims this despite the fact that Guerra admits in his testimony that evidence of Zambrano's ruling was not found on Guerra's computer and that the final ruling did not include any of the edits he supposedly made.
Ultimately the tribunal will not impact whether the Ecuadorean plaintiffs can attempt to collect the US$9.5 billion ruling in the United States, but its outcome will nonetheless be closely watched.
Parties connected to this case have already signaled that they intend to bring these developments to the attention of judicial authorities. Guerra's comments do not bode well for Chevron's case that the Ecuadorean ruling was secured fraudulently.
Kaplan's ruling is under appeal.