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Key Facts About Disbarred Lawyer Steven Donziger’s Ecuador Fraud

Date: Jun 23, 2021

When Steven Donziger, the lawyer behind the Ecuador fraud against Chevron, was disbarred last year, the New York court cited his “egregious professional misconduct.” Specifically, it called out his “corruption of a court expert and ghostwriting his report, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and judicial coercion and bribery, which he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge and shows no remorse for.” Here are a few facts he would prefer everyone ignore: 

Forgery: Donziger falsified evidence before the trial court in Ecuador to justify a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron. He and his team forged the report of one of their experts and submitted the falsified report under his name falsely claiming he had found contamination. In a sworn testimony, this expert, as well as other scientific experts from his team admitted (hereherehere, and here) that they found no evidence to support environmental claims against the company. They also admitted to ghostwriting the damages report that was submitted to the Ecuador court by a purportedly independent court expert, and which was subsequently used as the basis for the so-called Lago Agrio judgment against Chevron.  

Bribery: Donziger engaged in bribery to “win” his Ecuadorian lawsuit against Chevron. Donziger and his team promised a $500,000 bribe to Ecuadorian judge Nicolás Zambrano to rule in their favor and issue a judgment that Donziger’s team wrote. His team also paid a former Ecuadorian judge, Alberto Guerra, $1,000 a month to ghostwrite orders for the court to steer the case in Donziger’s favor. And Donziger’s team secretly paid more than $300,000 to the supposedly independent court expert, Richard Stalin Cabrera Vega, to allow them to write his damages report, which was used as the “technical basis” for the fraudulent judgment against Chevron. 

Fraud and Racketeering: Donziger is an adjudicated fraudster and racketeer. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found he obtained the 2011 Ecuador judgment against Chevron through fraud, bribery, and corruption, committing extortion, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and violating the U.S. racketeering statute (RICO) and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The court’s March 4, 2014 decision was unanimously affirmed in 2016 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the appellate decision. In a 2014 editorialThe Wall Street Journal dubbed Donziger’s Ecuador scheme “the legal fraud of the century,” calling it “dishonest and corrupt.” 

Ecuador Admits the Fraud: After years of denials, Ecuador now admits to Donziger’s fraud and corruption in its courts. In a public filing last year, Ecuadorian ambassador to the U.S., Ivonne Baki, acknowledged that the Lago Agrio judgment is “fraudulent.” Similarly, the District Court of The Hague, in a decision in 2020, confirmed that, “The fraudulent character of the judgment and the proceedings preceding it is common ground”  between Chevron and Ecuador. 

Multiple Losses: Donziger has lost in every court outside the fraudulent case in Ecuador. Courts in the United States, ArgentinaBrazilCanadaGibraltarHolland, and an international tribunal in The Hague have all rejected the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron, confirming its unenforceability in any country that respects the Rule of Law. The arbitral tribunal in The Hague, in a unanimous ruling – including an arbitrator appointed by Ecuador, found that the Ecuadorian judgment violated international law and should not be enforced anywhere in the world. 

What clients? The Unión de Afectados por Texaco (UDAPT), which purports to represent most of the 46 Lago Agrio plaintiffs and all the relevant indigenous communities in the region, fired him as a lawyer, spokesman and representatives and declared him “persona non grata” in Ecuador in 2013.  In a press release, UDAPT said its members decided to do this after Donziger failed to explain what he had done with $20 million raised in their name. “Donziger is not authorized to represent them or raise money, and if he does, the communities will disavow any statement or commitment made on their behalf,” the group said. In a draft letter, UDAPT also said they were concerned about reports Donziger would personally receive more than $600 million from the litigation and that he had “acted in his own interest and against the interest of the affected Ecuadorians.” In 2014, one indigenous group, the Waorani, sued Donziger for alleged unjust enrichment, claiming he falsely “represented to the [Ecuadorian] Court that [he] represent[ed]” them. The Waorani said Donziger’s interests in the Ecuador case “lie not in securing the Plaintiffs’ rights and interests in the [Ecuadorian] Judgement, but rather in collecting as much of the judgment as possible” for himself, they said.