Steven Donziger, the American lawyer behind the fraudulent lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador, claims money was not the motivation behind his multi-year extortionate smear campaign against the company.
“The purpose of the case is not to make money for lawyers,” he said in a recent radio interview. Winning a big fee for himself is “never what’s motivated me,” he claimed. And if he did strike it rich, he said his plan is “to use some of that money to leverage it back into the fight for social justice around the world.”
But elsewhere Donziger has been caught commenting in less altruistic terms about the prospect of landing a big payday – and the hundreds of millions of dollars it would deliver to him personally.
- In this outtake from the documentary film Crude, Donziger is captured leaving a meeting which he says was very successful because it advanced “the business of getting press coverage as part of a legal strategy.” When asked by a cameraman “What business is that?” Donziger replied: “The business of plaintiffs’ law. To make f**king money.”
- In another Crude outtake, Donziger tells a member of his team that “it is never too early to ask … because what can happen overnight” is that they can get a “juicy check” from Chevron.
- In his personal diary, Donziger gushed about his new-found fame and potential fortune, writing, “I sit back and dream. I cannot believe what we have accomplished. Important people interested in us. A new paradigm of not only a case, but how to do a case. Chevron wanting to settle. Billions of dollars on the table. A movie, a possible book. I cannot keep up with it all.”
- Donziger also executed a contract to outline who will get paid, how much and in what order, if any funds are realized. The contract stipulates that Donziger and the other attorneys are to be paid first, followed by a number of investors and other third parties that have a financial interest in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are listed to receive funds last, if any remain. As Fortune’s Roger Parloff reported in 2011, “under the ‘distribution waterfall’ set up by the 75-page contract, it is only after eight tiers of funders, attorneys, and “advisers” (including the plaintiffs’ e-discovery contractor) have fed at the trough that “the balance (if any) shall be paid to the claimants.”
It’s clear that a potential pay-out is not a minor side effect of the litigation for Donziger – it is at the heart of why he continues to pursue Chevron. In fact, he admitted in court that he stood to gain as much as $600 million if the judgment against the company is collected in full.
In 2012, Donziger and his team even went so far as to create an off-shore company in Gibraltar, Amazonia Recovery Limited, to ensure that any proceeds realized from the judgment against Chevron would be kept out of Ecuador. This would then allow Donziger and his team to control who got paid, in what order, and in what amount. Chevron filed claims against Amazonia before the Supreme Court of Gibraltar on the grounds that the company was simply a vehicle to perpetuate the ongoing fraud scheme against Chevron. In 2015, the court issued a $28 million dollar judgment and a permanent injunction against Amazonia in favor of Chevron.
Despite Donziger’s claims that his interest in this case is about more than money, his candid comments – which he thought would never see the light of day – shine light on his true motivations.