The Revolving Door of Fraud in the Chevron Ecuador Lawsuit
Overwhelming evidence of corruption has driven many of Steven Donziger’s former allies around the world to abandon his fraudulent lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador. Since the extent of the fraud was revealed, more than a dozen former insiders and allies have abandoned Donziger and his scheme, including his former co-counsel, environmental consultants, funders, investors, employees and Ecuadorian collaborators.
In Ecuador, however, participants in Donziger’s fraud have taken a different route. They’ve gone to work for the government.
Far from investigating, prosecuting or sanctioning those involved in the proven judicial misconduct, President Rafael Correa’s government has rewarded many of Donziger’s team with government jobs, contracts and appointments. Here are some examples:
Nicolás Zambrano – As judge of the Provincial Court of Sucumbíos, Zambrano was offered $500,000 by Donziger and his Ecuadorian lieutenant, Pablo Fajardo, to allow them to ghostwrite the judgment against Chevron. Zambrano was later dismissed by Ecuador’s Judiciary Council on suspicion of corruption in a separate case where he freed an alleged drug trafficker without explanation. Soon after his dismissal, however, Zambrano was awarded a job as a “legal analyst” at the state-owned Refinery of the Pacific. The details related to the bribe scheme and the ghostwritten judgment is described in detail in a 2014 U.S. federal court opinion, which found the Ecuadorian judgment illegitimate and unenforceable in the United States. The court opinion also links Zambrano’s employment with his claims that he is the true author of the judgment, stating, “This sequence of events gives rise to a strong inference that Zambrano’s employment was – and remains – directly related to his testimony. Zambrano’s attempt to deny any such connection only made the connection more likely because of the clumsy way in which he dissembled about it.”
Julio Prieto – Julio Prieto, one of Donziger’s Ecuadorian lawyers, expressed anxiety about their fraud being revealed in the United States. In a March 2010 email to Donziger and his Ecuadorian colleagues, Prieto panicked about the evidence of fraud being revealed by Chevron, worrying, “[T]he problem my friend is that the effects are potentially devastating in Ecuador (apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail).” In October 2011, Prieto was hired by Ecuador’s Constitutional Court for “direct consulting” as the author of a book on the “rights of nature” published in 2013. For this work, he was paid $37,350. In July 2015, in a clear conflict of interest, he appeared before the Constitutional Court as a lawyer for the plaintiffs against Chevron.
Juan Pablo Sáenz – Another of Donziger’s Ecuadorian lawyers and his temporary replacement in 2013, Juan Pablo Saenz’s internal work product appears verbatim in the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron although it was never presented to the court and is not found in the case docket, providing further evidence that the judgment was ghostwritten by Donziger and his team. During the fraudulent trial against Chevron in Ecuador, Saenz was a key intermediary between the plaintiffs’ lawyers and the Correa administration, as suggested by email exchanges with Donziger and other team members (here and here). He leveraged his contacts within the government in attempts to influence the case, including efforts to thwart state environmental remediation work in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Those contacts appear to have paid off. Saenz is now a “legal coordinator” at Ecuador’s media censorship arm, Cordicom.
Richard Cabrera – Richard Cabrera was appointed by the Ecuadorian court to perform an independent global damages assessment. Evidence was revealed, however, that he was hand-picked by Donziger as “the perfect foil” for Chevron, someone who would “totally play ball” with the plaintiffs. In the report filed under his name, Cabrera alleged Chevron was responsible for $27 billion in damages. However, unrebutted evidence has proven, and Donziger and his technical consultants have admitted (here, here and here), that they ghostwrote the report. Cabrera was paid more than $300,000 by Donziger and his team, including payments from a secret bank account. Meanwhile, at the time he acted as a court appointed “expert,” Cabrera’s company, Compañía Ambiental Minera-Petrolera S.A. (Campet S.A.), was a registered environmental remediation contractor with the state-owned oil company, Petroecuador. He failed to disclose this fact and it remained secret until it was revealed by Chevron in 2010.
Santiago Escobar – As director of Ecuador’s ruling political party, Alianza País, in Canada, Santiago Escobar organizes anti-Chevron events as part of Ecuador’s international campaign against the company. Escobar received this post after he helped the government try to discredit videos that were secretly recorded in 2009, which depicted party officials and a judge discussing remediation contracts in exchange for bribes.
Luis Villacreces – A former technical expert for Steven Donziger’s team, Luis Villacreces signed the plaintiffs’ technical report for the Sacha-13 well site, yet later said he had never actually been there and that he merely used data provided to him by the plaintiffs’ support organization, the Amazon Defense Front. Today, Villacreces is head of the “health, safety and environment” laboratory in Lago Agrio for the state-owned oil company, Petroecuador.
Alberto Wray – The plaintiffs’ first lead Ecuadorian lawyer, Wray was an early advocate of political meddling in the Lago Agrio trial. In 2005, he exchanged emails with Deputy Attorney General Martha Escobar seeking the government’s involvement in the pressure campaign against Chevron. Wray wrote: “if at some point we want the Government and the Attorney General to play for our side, we must give them some ability to maneuver.” Escobar responded: “all of us working on the State’s defense were searching for a way to nullify or undermine the value of the remediation contract and the final acta [i. e., the 1998 Final Release]…” Today, Wray is a Washington D.C.-based lawyer for the Republic of Ecuador.
Juan Diego Perez Arias – An Ecuadorian photographer, Perez worked for Donziger’s team during the judicial inspections. He later was director of photography for the propaganda film Crude, which was executive produced and financed by Donziger’s friend and principle funder, Russ DeLeon. Since then, Perez has been hired by Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment to produce a coffee table book for the government’s anti-Chevron campaign. The book was recently distributed by Ecuador’s embassy in Washington, accompanied by a letter from Ambassador Francisco Borja, to members of the U.S. Congress as part of the Correa administration’s global campaign to support Donziger’s fraud.