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Experts for Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing Chevron disavow their findings

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Apr 12, 2013

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) -- Chevron Corp. has submitted sworn declarations from two experts at a Colorado-based consulting firm, retained by lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing the oil giant, denying that there is any scientific merit to the plaintiffs' damages claims against the company and Texaco Petroleum Company.

Douglas Beltman, executive vice president of Stratus Consulting Inc., and Ann Maest, a managing scientist, provided statements that also outlined the consulting firm's knowledge of the plaintiffs' lawyers' misconduct in the ongoing environmental litigation in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

The statements were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Friday.

In their sworn declarations, Beltman and Maest detail the role Stratus and the plaintiffs' lawyers played in drafting the supposedly independent damages report of Richard Cabrera. The report served as an evidentiary basis of the $19 billion judgment handed down by an Ecuadorian court.

Last January, an appellate court in Ecuador upheld the judgment for Chevron's "intentional contamination" of the country's rainforest. The adverse ruling was issued by a panel of three temporary judges presiding over the proceedings in the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios in Lago Agrio.

The ruling, which stems from an environmental lawsuit involving Texaco Petroleum, confirmed a lower court's ruling in February 2011. The lower court found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon, causing an outbreak of disease and decimating indigenous groups.

Vowing never to pay the hefty judgment, the company filed a racketeering lawsuit in the Southern District of New York in response.

The company alleges that the Ecuador suit has been used to threaten the oil company, mislead U.S. government officials, and harass and intimidate its employees -- all to extort a financial settlement from the company.

In their testimonies, Beltman and Maest also provide a direct account of lead plaintiffs' lawyer Steven Donziger's control of the report process and the pressure Donziger applied to contrive damages attributed to Chevron.

Among the statements made in Beltman and Maest's filings:

- "Stratus is not aware of any scientific evidence that people in the former concession area are drinking water contaminated with petroleum."

- "At no time while working on the Ecuador Project did I see any data supporting a finding of groundwater contamination from TexPet operations..."

- "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."

- "...the conclusion that there were 1,400 'excess cancer' deaths near the oil operations area is invalid and unsupported."

- "I am not aware of any credible scientific evidence that supports the statement that cancer rates were up to 30 times higher than normal, or that the incidence of childhood leukemia was found to have reached alarming levels."

- "I am not aware of credible scientific evidence that more than 9,000 people in the area of oil operations in Ecuador are going to contract cancer in the coming decades or that links any such incidence to oil operations."

- "I am not aware of any credible scientific evidence that supports the statement that TexPet's operation of the concession ravaged thousands of square miles of once-pristine rainforest, that it poisoned the environment of tens of thousands of people, or that it decimated indigenous tribes who lived in the region."

- "I disavow any and all findings and conclusions in all of my reports and testimony on the Ecuador Project. I deeply regret that I allowed myself and my company to be used in the Lago Agrio Litigation in the way that we were..."

Read Beltman's full statement here.

Read Maest's full statement here.

"We are pleased that Stratus came forward to 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," Hewitt Pate, Chevron's vice president and general counsel, said in a statement Friday.

Attorney Craig Smyser of Houston, who is representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in the RICO case, contends Chevron "bullied" Stratus until the firm had no choice but to succumb.

"Chevron gets testimony two ways: they pay for it or they intimidate people until they give in," he said in a statement Friday. "The firm was faced with financial extinction after Chevron engaged in the defamation of Stratus to agencies Stratus did business with -- all of which is set out in Stratus' suit against Chevron. Stratus has testified, in this court, that it backs its science detailing the pollution and contamination of the Ecuadorian rainforest."

Smyser continued, "Although the settlement agreement Chevron extracted from Stratus prohibits Stratus for a period of 20 years from any environmental consulting that might even involve Chevron and imposes a gag order on Stratus with respect to public statements about 'the factual or scientific validity or accuracy of all or any part of the Cabrera report,' we are confident Stratus will testify truthfully about these topics."

Beltman and Maest submitted their statements as part of a settlement ending Chevron's lawsuit against them for fraud and extortion.

Smyser noted that less than three months ago Stratus filed papers in court that said justice was done in the Ecuadorian litigation.

"Chevron knows that based on scientific data collected during the Lago Agrio litigation, including data collected by Chevron, Stratus actually found that contamination was present at every single well site and station that was sampled, and that the areas contaminated by oilfield operations requiring cleanup included over 900 oilfield pits, 356 well sites, 22 oil processing stations and additional areas of spilled oil-a huge amount of environmental damage costing immense sums to remediate," he said.

"We are confident Stratus will stand by the statements it made in court and to the public, including those on CBS' 60 Minutes, detailing the science of Chevron's pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest."

Stratus is the latest to come forward accusing the plaintiffs' lawyers of fraud.

In January, a former Ecuadorian judge also came forward to admit his role in orchestrating the judgment against Chevron.

Albert Guerra, who presided over the environmental case against Chevron when it was first filed in 2003, revealed in testimony that he was paid thousands of dollars by the plaintiffs' lawyers and a subsequent judge, Nicholas Zambrano, for illegally ghostwriting judicial orders issued by Zambrano and steering the case in the plaintiffs' favor.

Guerra, who is no longer a judge, attested that the plaintiffs' lawyers were permitted to draft the $18 billion judgment in their own favor after they promised to pay Zambrano a $500,000 bribe out of the judgment's enforcement proceeds, and that Guerra then reviewed the plaintiffs' lawyers' draft for Zambrano before the judge issued it as his own.

Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorians, has said the "disgraced" judge is being paid by Chevron to make false allegations about the Ecuador trial court judgment.

Burford Capital, one of the largest financial backers of the plaintiffs, also has accused the plaintiffs' lawyers of fraud and other misconduct in connection with their pursuit of their case.

And in December, a former environmental consultant to the plaintiffs came forward with additional proof of fraud and the fabrication of evidence on the part of the plaintiffs' lawyers.

Chevron's RICO claim is set for trial on Oct. 15.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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