For years, a San Francisco-based activist organization, Amazon Watch, has made Chevron the target of an unrelenting smear campaign based on false allegations of environmental and social harms in the Amazon region of Ecuador. But who is Amazon Watch, and who do they really work for?
The short answer is that 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. The longer answer is more interesting – and damning to Amazon Watch.
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, Judge Kaplan found that Steven Donziger, the lead American lawyer behind the lawsuit against Chevron, 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.
So what does this have to do with Amazon Watch? Plenty, as the following excerpts from Judge Kaplan’s opinion demonstrate. Among other things, the court 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.)
To better understand Amazon Watch’s role in this scheme, one need only view the outtakes from the film “Crude”, referenced in the judgment. These videos highlight the degree to which the trial in Ecuador has been compromised by the misconduct of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. These concerns are conveyed in the words of a U.S. Magistrate Judge in New Mexico who found:
“The release of many hours of the outtakes has sent shockwaves through the nation’s legal communities, primarily because the footage shows, with unflattering frankness, inappropriate, unethical and perhaps illegal conduct.”
Certainly, the leaders of Amazon Watch recognized their complicity in this fraudulent scheme. One of the film’s outtakes captures Amazon Watch’s leadership expressing concern that their questionable actions under Mr. Donziger’s direction were being videotaped, fearing the recordings could be subpoenaed and used against them. As Judge Kaplan writes on p. 32 of his judgment:
Finally, it is relevant to note that Donziger and his Ecuadorian associates assumed that it would be impossible to obtain evidence of their actions. This 2007 exchange with Atossa Soltani, the head of Amazon Watch, a non-governmental organization (“NGO”) supporter of Donziger and the LAPs, during a videotaped conversation about arguably questionable planned activities in Ecuador, is revealing:
“SOLTANI: Do you guys know if anybody can, uh, subpoena these videos? That is a – how do you [unintelligible]
“DONZIGER: We don’t have the power of subpoena in Ecuador.”
In his ruling, Judge Kaplan noted that, “Justice is not served by inflicting injustice.” In fact, the wrongful actions of Amazon Watch and Mr. Donziger only undermine the aims of those who use legitimate means to further the rule of law, advance human rights and promote environmental responsibility.
While other insiders involved in the case, including scientific experts, funders, investors and legal counsel have abandoned the scheme upon learning the extent of the fraud, Amazon Watch remains one of the few supporters of what has been called “the legal fraud of the century.”