U.S. based oil firm Chevron Corp. has been ordered by an Ecuadorean judge to pay at least an $8.6 billion dollar fine for oil contamination in a wide area of Ecuador's northern Amazon jungle, the plaintiffs' lead attorney said on Monday.
Chevron said it would appeal and called the ruling "illegitimate and unenforceable" in a news release.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, called the judgment "a great step that we have made toward the crystalization of justice," but "we are not completely satisfied with the amount of the fine." He told The Associated Press that the plaintiffs would probably appeal.
Fajardo considered the damage award too low. He said by telephone that he had just received the 187-page ruling and needed to digest it before commenting further.
The ruling was issued by Judge Nicolas Zambrano from a ramshackle courthouse in the provincial city of Lago Agrio. It specifies damages for "the cleanup of soil, subterranean water, health, indigenous communities," Fajardo said.
The suit was originally filed in a New York federal court in 1993 against Texaco and was refiled in Ecuador after Chevron bought the company in 2001. It sought damages on behalf of 30,000 people, including poor farmers and indigenous groups, for environmental contamination and illnesses that allegedly resulted from Texaco's operation of an oil consortium from 1972 to 1990.
Chevron has long contended that the court-appointed expert in the case was unduly influenced by the plaintiffs. In its statement Monday, it called Zambrano's ruling "the product of fraud (and) contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence."
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said that Chevron had presented evidence in various U.S. courts showing that the plaintiffs' attorneys and consultants had ghostwritten the court-appointed expert's report that recommended $27.3 billion in damages.
"The legitimate scientific evidence provided to the court, as well as scientific analysis performed by the government of Ecuador, proves Texaco's cleanup worked," he contended Monday, referring to a $40 million 1990s remediation effort by Texaco.
Chevron disputes the findings of the expert, geological engineer Richard Cabrera, who concluded that Texaco left a mess when it departed in the early 1990s.
The suit stems from damages sought on behalf of 30,000 people for environmental contamination and illnesses that allegedly resulted from Texaco's operation of an oil consortium from 1972 to 1990.
The plaintiffs are indigenous peoples of Ecuador's Amazon region. They had been asking for $27 billion.
Chevron bought Texaco in 2001.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.