U.S. lawyer denies bribery at trial in Chevron-Ecuador case


By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK, Nov 19 (Reuters) - A U.S. lawyer on Tuesday deniedusing bribery to win a multibillion-dollar judgment againstChevron Corp in Ecuador, even as the oil company'slawyer raised tough questions about evidence that he saidsuggested the payments were made.

Chevron has claimed that the lawyer, Steven Donziger, usedfraud to obtain the $18.5 billion judgment for villagers tocompensate them for contamination at an oil field innortheastern Ecuador. The judgment was reduced to $9.5 billionby Ecuador's highest court last week.

Chevron hopes that a verdict in its favor from U.S. DistrictJudge Lewis Kaplan, who is presiding over the non-jury trial inNew York, will help it defend against attempts to enforce thejudgment around the world.

The judgment in Ecuador concerned pollution between 1964 and1992 at an oil field operated by Texaco, which was lateracquired by Chevron. Chevron claims Texaco remediated the siteafter ceasing operations.

Former Ecuadorean judge Alberto Guerra had testified earlierthat he was paid $1,000 a month to ghostwrite orders for thejudge overseeing the Ecuadorean case, Nicolas Zambrano. Guerrasaid that the Donziger was aware of the arrangement and the U.S.lawyer had thanked him at a restaurant meeting in Quito,Ecuador.

Donziger denied that claim, testifying that Guerra asked for$500,000 at that meeting and that Donziger turned him down.

"I would never do that," Donziger said. "Whatever money wehad, it would not be used to bribe a judge."

A lawyer for Chevron, Randy Mastro, said bank records showedthat a woman working for an organization affiliated withDonziger deposited $1,000 into Guerra's account.

Mastro asked about emails sent from an Ecuadorean lawyer onthe case to Donziger that referred to a "puppeteer" and a"puppet." In one email, the lawyer said the puppeteer would notmove the puppet unless the "audience pays him something."

Despite Mastro's suggestion that those were codenames forGuerra and Zambrano, Donziger said he did not believe the emailswere referring to them.

Mastro also questioned Donziger about a report submitted bya court-appointed expert, Richard Cabrera, in Ecuador that foundChevron liable for billions of dollars in damages.

Donziger acknowledged that a consulting firm working withhis team had drafted the executive summary as well as otherportions of the report, a fact that had been kept hidden. In anews release Donziger drafted in 2008, he called Chevron's claimthat Cabrera had cooperated with the plaintiffs "completelyfalse."

"There were times when I wasn't fully accurate about thatrelationship," he said on Tuesday. "This may have been one ofthose times."

He also testified that the team paid Cabrera out of aseparate account because the court was shut down at times due towhat he said were Chevron's attempts to delay the case.

"That was the reason he was paid outside the court process,"Donziger said.

But he said he believed the process that led to the Cabrerareport comported with Ecuadorean "law, custom and practice."

The case is Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al, U.S.District ABBCourt for the Southern District of New York, No.11-0691.

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