Chevron lost a high-profile pollution case in Ecuador in 2011 and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion for cleanup of billions of gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest. So far, the company hasn’t paid a dime — but a recent ruling in Canada might finally force Chevron to pay up.
Last week, Chevron's RICO suit against the lawyers representing 30,000 Ecuadoreans impacted by the company's oil pollution in the Amazon came to its inevitable conclusion when the judge presiding over the case, Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, ruled in Chevron's favor.
Yes, that's RICO as in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the law written so that mob bosses could be prosecuted for running their criminal empires.
Faced with a $9.5 billion judgement in Ecuador's courts, Chevron came back to the US and counter-sued under RICO statutes, essentially saying the organized opposition to its attempts to evade responsibility in Ecuador amounted to a criminal conspiracy.
Let that sink in for a minute: The lawyers who were trying to help 30,000 Indigenous villagers, farmers, and other poor, rural Ecuadoreans demand accountability from a multinational corporation with a $221.3 billion market cap were charged with corruption by that very same multinational corporation, and a US judge went along with it.
What this means is that the Ecuadoreans are barred from seeking Chevron assets in the US to force the company to pay the $9.5 billion. Chevron has refused to comply with the Ecuador court's ruling, even though Chevron itself argued that Ecuador was the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit over its 18 billion gallons of oil pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Since the Ecuadoreans had no plans of pursuing Chevron on its own turf, this ruling doesn't have much practical impact on the matter.
What Kaplan's ruling does do, however, is set a terrifying precedent for any company looking to evade responsibility for the consequences of its business operations.