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7 Ways Amazon Watch Supported the Legal Fraud of the Century

Date: Aug 17, 2015

Rather than refute a recent investigative report by the Washington Times with facts, Amazon Watch continues to advance conspiracy theories, recycle falsehoods and repeat its long-discredited rhetoric. But none of it will rehabilitate the California-based activist group that continues to promote the fraudulent Ecuadorian lawsuit against Chevron.

The Times stated: “When a federal judge ruled last year that trial lawyer Steven Donziger’s team engaged in fraud to win a multibillion-dollar environmental lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador, both moral supporters and investors who funded the legal action began to bail.” But not Amazon Watch. Despite the court’s finding that Steven Donziger and his team committed “egregious” fraud, Amazon Watch has doubled down, attacking the Times on blogs and social media. But its aggressive posturing won’t erase the facts.

Here are just seven ways Amazon Watch has supported what the Wall Street Journal has called “the legal fraud of the century”:

  1. U.S. Federal Court: Amazon Watch a “Central Player”: In March 2014, a U.S. Federal Court in New York found that Amazon Watch was a “central player in Donziger’s publicity campaign” to pressure Chevron into settling the fraudulent Ecuador suit. The court noted that “although Amazon Watch’s public materials did not bear Donziger’s name, Donziger himself drafted many Amazon Watch materials related to the Lago Agrio litigation. Donziger not only controlled the content of Amazon Watch press releases pertaining to the litigation, he drafted also complaints that Amazon Watch submitted to the SEC and memoranda to be sent to elected officials regarding Chevron. Despite Donziger’s authorship, the materials bore no outward indication of his involvement – documents drafted in whole or in substantial part by Donziger were sent on Amazon Watch letterhead and signed by Amazon Watch personnel.” See a portion of the court’s opinion related to Amazon Watch here.
  1. Donziger Admits to Writing Amazon Watch Press Releases: Donziger exerted control over Amazon Watch, expecting its members to carry out his orders without question. In this 2006 email from Donziger to Amazon Watch’s leadership, Donziger scolds the group for not posting the press releases he writes in a timely manner. He states that he knows “the press releases on the Ecuador campaign are not a terrible work burden to AW because I am writing most of them.”
  1. Amazon Watch’s Role in the Pressure Campaign: As Executive Director Leila Salazar-Lopez described it, Amazon Watch’s strategy is to “turn up the heat on Chevron through various means, shareholder resolutions, major media coverage and major investigations through, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission.” Amazon Watch worked hand-in-hand with Donziger to conceive and execute a campaign intended to “keep imposing tremendous pressure on Chevron.”   The campaign included a letter urging the SEC to “open an investigation into the Chevron” based on false information. Donziger praised the letter as a “huge victory” after an SEC investigator told him months later that it was actively investigating Chevron.
  1. Amazon Watch Asks for $1 Million To Pressure Chevron: In 2005, Amazon Watch submitted a proposal to Donziger requesting $1 million to carry out a host of pressure tactics on the company, including “Internet Asphyxiation”. The recommendation includes targeting Chevron’s executives and Board members so that “those individuals must be put in a position where, to survive intact in American society as a reputable company with a competitive edge, they will be forced to settle the lawsuit.”
  1. Spreading False Information to the Media: In 2006, David Russell, one of Donziger’s scientific experts, sent a cease and desist letter to Donziger demanding he and Amazon Watch stop using an overblown damages assessment Russell had previously provided. Russell stated that the figure was off “perhaps by a factor of ten” and specifically asked that it stop being used with the media, in press releases and other communications materials in the anti-Chevron pressure campaign. However, Amazon Watch continued to use the figure in the media and in complaints against the company to the SEC.
  1. Amazon Watch Leadership Caught on Tape: Outtakes from the movie Crude highlight the degree to which the trial in Ecuador was compromised by misconduct by Donziger and his team. In one of the outtakes, former Amazon Watch executive director Atossa Soltani discusses a plan to intimidate an Ecuadorian judge through the creation of an “army” to pressure the court. In the video, which also features Amazon Watch’s Kevin Koenig, Soltani admits that the tactics could be illegal, warning that “it’s illegal to conspire to break the law” and asking whether anyone could “subpoena these videos”. She goes on to fear that she will lose her citizenship by engaging in such conduct.
  1. Donziger Says Amazon Watch Can Cause “Pain”: In another Crude outtake, Donziger described Amazon Watch as having “played an absolutely critical role in this . . . [I]f it weren’t for them, we would just be a legal case, but because of the work of people who care, you know, especially Amazon Watch, we’re a campaign that has a legal case. And I think . . . that, um, the pain Amazon Watch can cause Chevron in many respects is greater than the pain we can cause . . .” In a communications plan he developed in 2005, Donziger assigns Amazon Watch to a number of tactics to pressure the company.

Why would an organization that claims to stand for human rights and the environment support Donziger’s fraud? The answer is simple: Amazon Watch has been richly rewarded. According to forensic accounting expert Troy Dahlberg of KPMG, Donziger’s team and his funders have donated over $500,000 to Amazon Watch, including $216,000 from former counsel Joseph Kohn and his firm Kohn, Swift & Graf, and $100,000 from Rainforest Action Network, another support of the fraudulent lawsuit and the former workplace of several Amazon Watch employees.

More recently, Amazon Watch reported donations of at least $25,000 from The Rising Group, which worked for Donziger’s team. Amazon Watch in turn funneled tens of thousands of dollars to the “Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia,” a front organization for the lawsuit in Ecuador that is named as the sole beneficiary of the $9.5 billion Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron.

Despite overwhelming evidence of fraud, the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon continue to be used by their government, unscrupulous U.S. and Ecuadorian lawyers and activist groups like Amazon Watch.