An Argentine judge has embargoed up to 19 billion dollars in Chevron assets in connection with an environmental lawsuit by Ecuadorean villagers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said on Wednesday.
An Ecuadorean court last year ordered Chevron Corp to pay the enormous sum for contamination of watersheds over nearly 30 years that the plaintiffs say sickened indigenous tribes people and farmers in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
Chevron has refused to make any payments and accuses Ecuadorean courts of fraud. Because the company has few assets in the Andean nation, the plaintiffs are seeking enforcement of the ruling in other countries including Brazil and Canada.
The freeze order applies to the entire 19 billon dollars amount of the Ecuador judgment, meaning that Chevron will effectively be barred from investing further in Argentina unless it wants to risk seizure of those assets as well, the plaintiffs said in a statement.
The ruling could pave the way for the plaintiffs to collect on the award. But it could also be just another round of judicial ping-pong in a complex legal battle that has included frequent appeals and vicious accusations.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Enrique Bruchou, said the ruling by Argentine judge Adrian Elcuj includes an embargo on 40% of Chevron's Argentine oil revenue, the company's shares in its Argentine subsidiary and a stake in an oil pipeline.
We consider this to be an exemplary ruling, he said. We are letting the world know that foreign investment is welcome in Latin America, but that investors must adhere to the same environmental standards that apply in their own countries.
Chevron, Argentina's fourth-largest oil producer said it was not aware of any Argentine court order and reiterated its position that the Ecuador ruling is unenforceable.
The Ecuador judgment is a product of bribery, fraud, and it is illegitimate ... We do not believe that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law, the company said in a statement.
Bruchou said the company can appeal, but would have to file for an appeal in Ecuador because the judge issued the embargo after a request by an Ecuadorean court.
The plaintiffs plan to file similar suits in Colombia as well as in as yet unidentified countries in Asia and Europe.
A U.S. appeals court in January said that a U.S. judge did not have the authority to stop courts in other countries from enforcing the judgment. Chevron appealed the decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal in October.