Chevron-Ecuador case expert switches sides, becomes eyewitness to fraud by plaintiff lawyers

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Fernando Reyes, an Ecuadorian author and engineer, used to work for the lawyers suing the oil company Chevron. Now he’s switched sides.

Reyes handed over a sworn statement to Chevron that accuses the lawyers suing the oil giant of trying to manipulate and control the outcome of supposedly “independent” court reports on oil field contamination in Ecuador.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that lawyers wanted leverage to force Chevron to pay for the clean up of parts of the Amazon where the oil company Texaco — bought by Chevron in 2001 — used to drill for oil.

However, Reyes said that three of the lawyers “acknowledged that the judicial inspection process had not yielded data to support their claims of contamination.”

Chevron has been locked in an $19 billion legal battle with environmental groups over environmental damage allegedly caused by Texaco from 1964 to 1992, while it operated in partnership with the state-owned oil company PetroEcuador. Since Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, the lawyers have gone global and pursued Chevron assets in Argentina, Brazil and Canada.

The lawsuit has been plagued by allegations of corruption, with Chevron filing a racketeering suit in the U.S. last year against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers for conducting a “fraudulent litigation and PR campaign against the company,” Bloomberg reports.

However, the anti-Chevron lawyers have accused Chevron of ghostwriting some of Reyes’ comments.

“Reyes either lies or is mistaken when he claims that the plaintiffs acknowledged that the data from the judicial inspections did not support their claims,” said Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the plaintiffs.

Reyes became involved with the Chevron lawsuit late in 2005, after he published a book arguing that both Chevron and the Ecuadorian government needed to clean up the oil fields.

He was asked by Steven Donziger, a U.S. attorney who is leading the case against Chevron, to review the analysis of the contamination tests by court-appointed experts. Reyes agreed, and was told not to tell the court that he was being paid by Donziger and the other plaintiffs.

“Mr. Donziger told us his goal was to create the image that the monitorship was ‘independent’ of the parties, so that it would be received with deference and respect by the court,” said Reyes.

The SF Chronicle reports that Donziger disagreed with the findings of the court-appointed experts, and told Reyes and another engineer to to submit a paper critical of the expert’s work using the letterhead from an engineering association.

“During our discussions, Mr. Dozinger (sic) told us that our report should establish that the findings of the settling experts’ report … were wrong, that they lacked objectivity and were biased toward Chevron, and therefore the report should be discounted,” said Reyes. “However, in my professional opinion the evidence did not support Mr. Donziger’s position and I could not twist my professional assessments to make them fit the plaintiffs’ interests.”

Donziger later tried to get a judge in the case to appoint Reyes as an independent expert to do a “global assessment” of damages for the court, but Reyes rejected the idea and suggested consultant Richard Cabrera instead. The three of them met in 2007 to discuss what Donziger wanted.

Donziger and the other plaintiff lawyers “dropped any pretense that Mr. Cabrera would act independently in writing an expert report that would be technically sound and executed according to professional standards,” said Reyes’ statement.

“On the contrary, it was obvious that the plaintiffs had already predetermined the findings of the global assessment, that they themselves would write a report that would support their claim for billions of dollars against Chevron and would simply put Mr. Cabrera’s name on it,” the statement continued.

“Cabrera’s report has since been shown to be a fraud, written by the plaintiffs’ representatives and passed off as the work of a neutral and independent court appointee,” said Chevron. “Reyes’ declaration describes the process by which the plaintiffs’ lawyers sought out someone who, as Donziger put it, would ‘totally play ball with us and let us take the lead while projecting the image that he is working for the court.’”

“The plaintiffs’ lawyers’ were aware of the fraud they were committing: as their scheme to deceive the court was unraveling, Donziger’s co-counsel wrote, ‘all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail,’” Chevron continued.

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