New wrinkle in Ecuador case

It’s getting harder for plaintiffs in the huge pollution lawsuit against Chevron to argue that the Ecuadoran judicial system is squeaky clean.

They won a multi billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuador earlier this year alleging that Texaco, which later merged with Chevron, had polluted a vast swath of the Amazon rain forest in eastern Ecuador. The case was handled by a team of lawyers in Ecuador financed by the Philadelphia based plaintiffs firm, Kohn Swift & Graf. It has drawn rapt attention in the U.S. following the release of videotapes, made by a documentary film maker, in which the leader of the plaintiffs’ team spoke about the corruption of the Ecuadoran system and plans to pressure judges.

Kohn Swift & Graf ended its relationship with the lawyers before the videotapes came out and has since announced it will not accept any fees from the case.

The plaintiffs’ side has argued the indiscretions of individual lawyers don’t alter the underlying facts, that the Ecuadoran system is fundamentally sound and it is insulting to suggest otherwise.

That has become a tougher sell in recent weeks.

On Aug. 30, a journalist at the Ecuadoran newspaper El Universo disclosed he had fled to the United States after he and three members of the newspaper’s board were sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay President Rafael Correa $30 million in damages. The case stems from a dispute over the newspaper’s coverage of President Correa.

In April, the Ecuadoran government expelled the American ambassador following disclosure of a State Department cable by WikiLeaks in which she suggested the national police commander had engaged in various corrupt activities and that the President Correa might be aware of them.

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