Prosecution experts in Chevron pollution case disavow evidence

12 April 2013 23:41  [Source: ICIS news]

MEDELLIN, Colombia (ICIS)--Experts working for a US-based consultancy company whose work helped bring about a $19bn (€14bn) verdict against Chevron in a landmark pollution case filed testimonies on Friday disavowing their previous findings that formed the basis of the 2011 judgement.

Colorado-based Stratus Consulting was retained by the plaintiffs’ lead US lawyer Steven Donziger to help compile a 4,000-page independent damages report, known as the “Cabrera” report.

The report served as an evidentiary basis during the trial in which the US-based energy company was accused of massive environmental contamination in the Ecuadorean rainforest.

Stratus Vice President Douglas Beltman and lead scientist Ann Maest provided testimonies, released by Chevron, claiming the evaluation process and report were “fatally tainted”.

“I disavow any and all findings and conclusions in all of my reports and testimony on the Ecuador project,” Beltman said.

“I deeply regret that I allowed myself and my company to be used in the Lago Agrio litigation in the way that we were,” he added.

Beltman claims that there was no scientific merit to the plaintiffs’ claims against Chevron, and questions the extent to which the company was culpable for the subsequent health problems in the area.

“I am not aware of any scientific data that shows that any adverse health effects are caused by contamination from petroleum operations in the Oriente,” Beltman said.

The testimonies also brought to light the plaintiffs’ lawyers alleged misconduct in the ongoing litigation and their “behind the scenes activities”.

“It was my impression that Donziger was not interested in the results of scientific evaluations of the area unless he could use them to attack Chevron,” Maest said.

Chevron, which recently dismissed fraud and racketeering claims against Stratus, welcomed the consultancy firm’s decision to come forward and “reveal the truth”.

“We call on others with knowledge of the fraud tainting the trial in Ecuador to come forward and do the right thing,” said Chevron Vice President Hewitt Pate.

Chevron has filed a countersuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), set for trial on 15 October, seeking damages and a declaration that the Ecuadorian judgement is fraudulent and unenforceable.

An attorney representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in the RICO trial responded to Beltman and Maest’s testimonies by saying that Chevron was guilty of “bullying” Stratus.

“Chevron gets it testimony two ways: They pay for it or they intimidate people until they give in,” said Houston-based Craig Smyser.

Smyser said that Stratus had already testified in court that it backed its science detailing the pollution and contamination of the Ecuadorian rainforest.

“We are confident Stratus will stand by the statements it made in court and to the public,” Smyser said.

($1 = €0.76)

By: Simon West

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