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Plaintiffs up Alleged Chevron Damages in Ecuador

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- The plaintiffs suing Chevron Corp. over oil contamination in a large swath of Ecuador's jungle have raised their estimate of damages to a range of $40 billion to $90 billion.

The plaintiffs' previous damages claim of $27 billion had been endorsed by the court-appointed expert in the bitter, long-running case.

A Chevron spokesman rejected the new estimate Friday as a wildly distorted attempt to discredit the oil company.

The plaintiffs said they filed the assessment with the trial judge late Thursday to comply with his Aug. 2 request to justify their positions on economic damages. They said it is based on analyses by prominent U.S. medical, environmental and economics consultants.

The suit stems from operations in Ecuador by Texaco from 1972-1990, when it managed a drilling consortium. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001. It claims it was cleared of liability by a 1990s cleanup and that Ecuador's state-owned oil company must share any responsibility.

In the newly filed document, lawyers for the Indians and other affected residents of a Rhode Island-sized stretch of Amazon rain forest significantly increased their claim of unjust enrichment against Chevron -- putting it at between $18.3 billion and $37.9 billion.

They calculated liability for "excess cancer deaths" caused chiefly by groundwater contamination at up to $69.7 billion, while estimating actual soil and groundwater cleanup at between $883 million and $1.9 billion.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Pablo Fajardo told The Associated Press that the new figure was submitted because "the previous figure was insufficient to fix all the damage caused."

Chevron spokesman James Craig told the AP that the California-based oil company was studying the new figures, noting that on the high end they represent nearly three times "the absurd figures" presented earlier by court-appointed expert Richard Cabrera.

"It's obvious that they are talking nonsense and that this is all a media campaign. The number has no scientific or technical basis," said Craig.

Lawyers claiming to represent some 30,000 inhabitants of Ecuador's Amazon initially sued Texaco in U.S. federal court in 1993. The case was later refiled in Ecuador.

Chevron claims it cannot get a fair trial in Ecuador and release video recorded clandestinely last year that it contends shows the country's legal and political system are too corrupt to be trustworthy.

But the plaintiffs have questioned the motives of the two men who made the recordings. One turned out to be a one-time Chevron contractor, the other a convicted felon with a history of legal troubles.