QUITO, Ecuador (Legal Newsline) - An Ecuadorian judge ruled last week that Chevron Corp. now must pay more than $19 billion for the alleged damage it has caused to the country's Amazon region.
That is nearly $1 billion more than the $18 billion judgment imposed by an Ecuadorian court in February 2011.
In a court filing July 23, Judge Lilia Ortiz ordered the oil giant to pay $19.02 billion instead of the $18.2 billion, according to a Dow Jones report.
The news service reported Friday that the $19.02 billion includes about $1.7 billion for the Amazon Defense Front, a group formed by the plaintiffs in the suit filed against Chevron, and $8.6 billion because the company did not apologize.
Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, confirmed the amount Monday. However, she declined to comment on the increase.
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said in an email Monday that the boost in damages is "yet another example of a dysfunctional court system."
"The current judge is the sister of the criminal defense lawyer representing Pablo Fajardo and several other individuals representing the plaintiffs. She should have been disqualified but was not," he said. "Now the plaintiffs are benefitting from another compliant judge as they seek compensation for costs, including the funds used to bribe Richard Cabrera, the court's so-called independent expert."
Robertson said the company has filed challenges to the recommendation, "will resist any increase to the fraudulent judgment, and will continue to highlight the illegitimacy of the overall process."
The judge's order comes nearly two months after the Ecuadorians hit Chevron with another lawsuit, this time in Canada, in hopes the company would comply with the $18 billion judgment against it.
Canada has a law that allows interest to run on a foreign judgment during the enforcement process, potentially adding to the judgment already facing the company.
The Ecuadorians said in May they were forced to file the enforcement action because Chevron refuses to pay the judgment imposed by the Ecuadorian court last year.
The court found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon, causing an outbreak of disease and decimating indigenous groups.
The ruling stems from an environmental lawsuit involving Texaco Petroleum Company, which merged with Chevron more than 10 years ago.
In January, an appellate court in Ecuador upheld the $18 billion judgment for Chevron's "intentional contamination."
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.
Chevron, which has vowed never to pay the hefty judgment, filed a racketeering lawsuit in a New York federal court last year 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.
Chevron maintains that the $18 billion judgment is a product of "bribery" and "fraud," and is "illegitimate."
"The company does not believe that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law," it said in a statement in May.
"If the plaintiffs' lawyers believed in the integrity of their judgment, they would be seeking enforcement in the United States -- where Chevron Corporation resides.
"In the U.S., however, the plaintiffs' lawyers would be confronted by the fact that seven federal courts have already made findings under the crime/fraud doctrine about this scheme."
The company says it plans to "vigorously defend" against any enforcement action, including the filing in Canada.
"Chevron will also continue to pursue relief against Ecuador in our pending arbitration and against the plaintiffs' representatives in our RICO action pending in New York," it said.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.