Submitted by: Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC)
Posted: Dec 22, 2016 – 11:08 AM EST
QUITO, Dec. 22 /CSRwire/ - Eight more Ecuadorian villagers have terminated their relationship with Ecuadorian attorney Pablo Fajardo after he secretly cooperated with Ecuador’s government in agreeing to lift a court order freezing Chevron's assets. The lifting of the embargo, which took place last July, permitted Ecuador’s government to make a controversial payment of $112 million to Chevron that should have gone to remediating the environmental pollution caused by the company, say the villagers.
The move follows the earlier suspension of Fajardo by the Amazon Defense Coalition (“FDA”), the grass roots organization that represents the interests of thousands of indigenous peoples and farmers affected by the contamination. The FDA is the sole beneficiary of the historic $9.5 billion environmental judgment against Chevron that has since been affirmed by Ecuador’s highest court and is currently being enforced against Chevron’s assets in Canada and other countries.
The FDA is currently being advised by a team of lawyers in Ecuador, the United States, and Canada. The team includes Patricio Salazar in Ecuador; Aaron Page and Steven Donziger in the United States; and Alan Lenczner and Brendan Morrison in Canada.
After suspending Fajardo as its attorney in July, the FDA conducted an investigation which found that Fajardo undertook the action in secret without consulting the FDA, the affected communities, or any of the individual “named” plaintiffs to the lawsuit, said Carlos Guaman, the President of the FDA. Fajardo also lied to the court when he claimed his clients had been consulted, according to legal papers he signed that have been obtained by the group.
The FDA investigation also found that Fajardo appeared to have been motivated by promises from certain individuals within Ecuador’s government that he would be provided with a fund to finance his activities. The FDA has long insisted on strict financial controls and internal transparency to avoid conflicts of interest, which Fajardo violated by virtue of accepting funds from Ecuador’s government at the same time he lifted the embargo order without informing his clients, said Guaman.
Hugo Camacho, an Ecuadorian community leader who years ago had signed the class action lawsuit against Chevron and who is one of the eight villagers to fire Fajardo, said neither he nor any of his colleagues were consulted before the lawyer lifted the embargo. “We signed the lawsuit in representation of everybody affected, so we had a right to be consulted,” he said. “Going forward, we will work with a new team of lawyers who will respect their client’s wishes on these critical matters.”
Guaman, the President of the FDA, emphasized the lawsuit against Chevron was independent of Ecuador’s government and that no government official had the right to try to manipulate any lawyer representing the communities.
“Any funding of the lawsuit against Chevron from an outside source must be carefully vetted and a private agreement from a lawyer to accept such funding from a government official is wholly inappropriate,” said Guaman. “We have had to remind Mr. Fajardo that the lawsuit is a private civil action between the affected communities and Chevron and that Ecuador’s government is not a party to the case, even though we appreciate the entirely appropriate efforts by Ecuador President Rafael Correa to protect the independence of the legal system from attacks by Chevron.
“We have concluded that Mr. Fajardo’s actions violated his ethical obligations and have caused a conflict of interest which we are still sorting out,” he added.
Alejandro Soto, a member of the FDA, said that the results of the group’s investigation were “deeply disturbing” and spurred several Amazon communities to vote to fire Mr. Fajardo. While Soto said Fajardo had done “excellent” work during the trial against Chevron in Ecuador, there was no reasonable explanation for his latest action.
“The unilateral and secret decision by Mr. Fajardo to lift the embargo was unethical and harms every individual affected by Chevron’s pollution,” said Soto. The FDA and the communities had planned to use funds from the embargo to start the environmental remediation process after waiting decades to begin the restoration work, Soto said.
While the court-ordered embargo against Chevron's assets in Ecuador had been in place for years, Chevron had sold most if its assets in the country (including numerous service stations) in 2007 as evidence mounted against it in the environmental case. Chevron had insisted the trial take place in Ecuador, and had accepted jurisdiction there.
Angry that the indigenous communities were able to press their case effectively, Chevron tried to retaliate by simultaneously pursuing an international arbitration claim against Ecuador’s government over a series of commercial cases related to the company’s operations in Ecuador in the 1970s and 1980s.
When Chevron earlier this year won a $112 million judgment against Ecuador's government in that arbitration (on the theory that Ecuador’s courts moved too slowly to process Chevron’s claims), the debt owed by Ecuador’s government to Chevron became subject to the court embargo in the environmental case. If Mr. Fajardo had not lifted the embargo order, Ecuador’s government would have been required by law to pay the $112 million to the affected communities to be used for environmental clean-up.
Hours after a court granted Fajardo’s motion the same day it was filed, Ecuador’s government quickly sent the $112 million that had been intended for the affected communities to Chevron without news of Fajardo’s motion being made public. Only days later did Fajardo’s actions in lifting the embargo become known as a result of reporting by an Ecuadorian media outlet.
Fajardo purports to act on behalf of a political organization in Ecuador’s Amazon region called UDAPT. While the UDAPT represents an important mechanism for community voices to be heard, it is only one part of the environmental justice coalition fighting Chevron, said Guaman.
The UDAPT has no legal authority to take action that would affect the Chevron lawsuit or the $9.5 billion judgment of which the FDA is the sole beneficiary, he added.
“This is an opportunity to reiterate that the FDA, as the sole beneficiary of the judgment against Chevron, represents the interests of all persons affected by the pollution and exercises authority over both international and domestic enforcement processes,” Guaman said. “That said, we welcome input from all affected communities and nationalities around our common objective of collecting the full amount of the judgment against Chevron
“Only then will we be able to restore our precious forests from the damage caused by the company,” he added.
For more information please contact Patricio Salazar: PatricioSalazarCordova@gmail.com
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