Revealed by Amazon Watch: Desperation!
Recently Amazon Watch – one of the few remaining supporters of Steven Donziger, the lawyer behind the fraudulent lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador – issued a press release claiming to have obtained videos containing “smoking gun” evidence that Chevron tried to hide contamination in Ecuador. Upon viewing the videos, however, viewers will find that the only revelation made by their release is how desperate Donziger and his followers have become.
Who is Amazon Watch?
The first thing to consider is the source of these videos. As noted here recently, Amazon Watch is a key player in a fraudulent scheme concocted by a group of lawyers and activists in a blatant attempt to extort billions of dollars from Chevron. In March 2014, a federal district court in New York ruled that a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuador was the product of fraud and racketeering activity. See here for the nearly 500-page opinion by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
In his opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Kaplan found that Steven Donziger committed numerous violations of federal laws – including extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, witness tampering and obstruction of justice – in obtaining the Ecuadorian judgment and in trying to conceal his and his associates’ illegal conduct.
But Judge Kaplan also had plenty to say about Amazon Watch. In his opinion Judge Kaplan found that:
- Donziger and his associates – including Amazon Watch – knowingly disseminated unsubstantiated and false accusations of environmental damage in an effort to pressure Chevron into a settlement. (See pp. 380-381 of the court’s opinion here.)
- Amazon Watch allowed Mr. Donziger to use its name to promote his scheme, and Mr. Donziger ghostwrote Amazon Watch press releases, memos and other materials that contained inaccurate and misleading information about Chevron. (See p. 52 of the court’s opinion here.)
- Donziger and his team, including Amazon Watch, transmitted false information to various media outlets, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York Attorney General. (See p. 57 of the court’s opinion here.)
More than a year after this judgment Amazon Watch continues to perpetuate this fraud.
What do the videos show?
Amazon Watch claims to have obtained 47 DVDs containing video of Chevron technicians performing soil sampling at a variety of former oil production sites in Ecuador. During the trial against Chevron in Ecuador, both the plaintiffs and Chevron conducted site inspections to interview residents, identify site features and determine the perimeter of pits that were used during the oil production process – a standard practice at the time.
The borders of many of the former pits were not easily identified by visual inspection. So, to determine a pit’s perimeter, soil samples were taken at a variety of locations. Samples that were taken inside pit boundaries often contained residual hydrocarbons mixed with stabilizers like cement to make them immobile. Technicians would then take samples at various intervals until they found the outside edge of the pit, where samples no longer showed the presence of hydrocarbons — indicating the pit’s perimeter.
During the federal racketeering trial against Donziger, Judge Kaplan rejected Donziger’s attempt to characterize this sampling process as something nefarious, saying that the process is “perfectly analogous to what happens when a surgeon operates on a malignant or suspected malignant tumor. There is a tumor. You want to know if it is malignant, and if it is malignant, you want to know how far out, from what is observable with the naked eye and the confirmable pathologically, the tumor extends. And so the surgeon causes the pathologist to test no only the heart of the tumor, which is of course essential to identify the pathology, but what appeared to be clean areas around it to ensure that when the surgeon cuts – the analogy here being remediates – you get the whole cancer.”
What don’t the videos show?
Despite Amazon Watch’s hyperbole – including a comparison to the Pentagon Papers – the videos show nothing more than technicians taking soil samples from a variety of areas to determine the perimeter of the pit. There is no discussion of “hiding” samples or concealing the results. There is also no indication that this sampling was done in “secret”, as has been alleged by Donziger’s supporters. Both parties performed pre-inspections and conducted soil sampling as part of those pre-inspections.
What do the videos prove?
The “release” of these videos – four years after they were obtained by Amazon Watch – continues to demonstrate the level of desperation by Steven Donziger and his few remaining supporters.
Amazon Watch, which has allowed itself to be used by Steven Donziger for years, continues to promote a lawsuit that a U.S. federal court found to be a fraud. Other recent acts of desperation include smearing judges and journalists who have exposed their misconduct. While several former insiders – including scientific experts, funders, investors and legal counsel – have abandoned the fraudulent scheme, Amazon Watch remains one of the few supporters of what has been called the “legal fraud of the century.”
Amazon Watch’s Kevin Koenig was quoted as saying the videos “speak for themselves.” We agree.