Villagers Warn Chevron Over Corruption Allegations Following Secret Paul Manafort Meeting in Ecuador

QUITO, Ecuador - Rainforest villagers from Ecuador have issued a stern warning to Chevron to stop any attempts to corrupt the $9.5 billion environmental judgment against the company following the stunning news that indicted political operative and oil industry lobbyist Paul Manafort had a highly unusual secret meeting with their country's newly-elected President in May of last year.

“We must again warn Chevron that it needs to stop trying to accomplish through political pressure what it cannot accomplish through real evidence inside the courtroom,” said Luis Yanza, the Ecuadorian community leader an official with the Amazon Defense Coalition (FDA), the group that brought the lawsuit against Chevron over the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic oil waste onto indigenous ancestral lands. 

Manafort, indicted in October on 12 felony counts in the Robert Mueller investigation in the United States, was in Quito on May 8 of last year meeting secretly with Ecuador’s newly elected President, Lenin Moreno. The meeting occurred at the same time Chevron has stepped up efforts to use political pressure to try to quash the lawsuit after losing three straight appellate court decisions in Canada. For more background on the meeting and on Chevron’s motivation to corrupt the case, see this article and analysis published on The Chevron Pit. 

News of the meeting emerged only when Manafort was forced to disclose his international travel to a U.S. federal court as a condition of seeking bail following his arrest in late October; Moreno did not admit to the meeting until mid-November.  The timing of the meeting has raised questions given that Moreno had just been elected and Ecuador has many far more pressing political and economic issues on the agenda than a single litigation between private parties.

The Manafort meeting was arranged by Ivonne Baki, a notorious former Minister of Commerce in Ecuador and a longtime Chevron lobbyist who repeatedly has tried via unethical means to help the company extricate itself from the lawsuit. The meeting also took place at a time several Trump Administration officials have urged Ecuador’s government to try to eliminate the oil giant’s liability as part of a general “re-set” of bilateral relations between the two countries. Manafort had worked as a Chevron lobbyist in the Ukraine and Russia searching for oil and gas deals.

The United States Ambassador to Ecuador, Todd Chapman, recently called the Chevron liability an “irritant” that affects relations between the two countries.  Steven Donziger, the longtime U.S. lawyer for the affected communities, warned Chapman that such a comment comprises “inappropriate interference in a private legal case” and that it also “undermines the objectives of U.S. foreign policy.”

“The primary purpose of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America is to promote civil society and democratic institutions, not to take the side of a notorious corporate polluter in a litigation matter between two private parties playing out in courts around the world,” said Donziger, in reference to the Ambassador’s remarks. “The U.S. embassy in Quito has an unfortunate reputation of serving as an outpost for Chevron’s corporate interests in Ecuador. That is not an appropriate role for a U.S. embassy.” 

In response to Chevron’s stepped-up lobbying pressure, the indigenous groups and farmer communities in Ecuador have mounted a furious counterattack to protect the integrity of the judicial process and the independence of Ecuador’s courts, said Patricio Salazar, the Ecuadorian lawyer for the affected communities.  Ecuador owes significant debt to foreign banks and Chevron is trying to use the international financial system to pressure the country’s government to interfere with the case, said Salazar.

“We are in the process of educating important government officials in Ecuador so they understand both the evidence of massive environmental harm caused by Chevron and how political pressure from Chevron or Trump Administration officials would be patently inappropriate,” said Salazar. 

In its statement, the FDA said the Manafort-Moreno meeting “is cause for great concern given [Chevron’s] long history of corruption in Ecuador”. The group called on Chevron to disclose all contacts between Manafort and any other Chevron-connected person with officials in the governments of both Ecuador and the United States.

Here is the full text of a statement issued by the Front for the Defense of the Amazon, the non-profit community based organization that represents dozens of indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador who won the judgment against Chevron: 

“News that Paul Manafort, a former high-level American lobbyist for Chevron, met secretly with Ecuador President Lenin Moreno in Quito in a meeting arranged by Yvonne Baki is cause for great concern given the company’s long history of corruption in Ecuador and credible allegations that Manafort himself has committed criminal violations. We call on Chevron to fully disclose any and all contacts between Manafort and any other Chevron-connected person with government officials in either Ecuador or the United States with regard to the pollution case and we insist the company refrain from trying to use political pressure to try to influence court outcomes.  We call on Ecuador’s government to release a full transcript of the Manafort meeting and any memos summarizing or analyzing the same. We will continue to monitor Chevron’s activities in this regard and we will report any suspicious activity to competent authorities as well as release any relevant information to the public.”

The indigenous groups have pointed out repeatedly that Chevron has a long history of using fraud to try to block the environmental claims, including paying at least $2 million to a witness who later admitted lying under oath. Paying for false testimony is a crime and the affected communities have sent a criminal referral letter to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking an investigation.

For more background on Chevron’s many attempts to commit fraud and use corrupt means to undermine the case, see this summary affidavit published on the website of the environmental organization Amazon Watch.

For more information, please contact:

Karen Hinton
Phone: 703-798-3109

Steven Donziger