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Cablegate: Chevron Tapes Backlash

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHQT #0860/01 2532225
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 102224Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY QUITO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0014
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 0002
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0002
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL 0006
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 0002

UNCLAS QUITO 000860

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EINV EPET EC
SUBJECT: Chevron Tapes Backlash

REF: 09 QUITO 795

Summary

-----------

1. (SBU) Several Ecuadorian legal bodies have launched
investigations into aspects of the allegations of corruption made
by Chevron with the August 31 release of clandestinely recorded
videotapes implicating the presiding judge in its multi-billion
dollar environmental lawsuit, as well as people affiliated with the
government and ruling party (reftel). Ecuador's Attorney General
has promised to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the
bribery charges and has received evidence from Chevron. However,
Chevron opponents have been vociferous in their claims that the
company manufactured the tapes to disrupt the lawsuit before a
negative ruling could be rendered. Ecuador's Prosecutor General
has called on the Attorney General to initiate proceedings against
Chevron in the United States, presumably for violations under the
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. A new judge has been assigned to
the environmental lawsuit, after the presiding judging recused
himself on the urging of Ecuador's Prosecutor General. Although
the new judge will require some time to read the case material, the
lawsuit is expected to continue without significant delay. End
Summary.

Those Implicated

----------------------

2. (SBU) In the week following Chevron's release of videotapes
exposing an alleged bribery scheme linked to the upcoming ruling in
its environmental lawsuit in Ecuador, those implicated in the
scheme scrambled to deny involvement and distance themselves from
the potential scandal. Notable among those implicated were
President Correa's Legal Secretary, Alexis Mera, and sister,
Pierina Correa. Both were mentioned in the taped conversations,
but neither were filmed participating in any of the meetings. Mera
and Pierina forcefully denied any involvement in the lawsuit and
the scheme, and claimed that Chevron's release of the tapes was an
attempt to discredit Ecuador's legal system and damage President
Correa. See reftel for details regarding Chevron's allegations.


3. (SBU) So far, President Correa has refrained from commenting on
Chevron's disclosure, while his political party Alianza Pais (AP)
has denied any affiliation with those identified on the tapes.
Chevron's transcripts identify those purporting to have GoE or AP
links as: Carlos Patricio Garcia Ortega, Aulo Gelio Servio Tulio
Avila Cartagena, Pablo Almeida, Ruben Dario Miranda Martinez, Diego
Fernando Borja Sanchez, and Juan Pablo Novoa Velasco. According to
press reports, Carlos Patricio Garcia Ortega was political
coordinator of AP when it was first formed in 2006 and Ruben Dario
Miranda Martinez was his assistant. The Prosecutor General was
scheduled to take statements from Judge Juan Nunez and Patricio
Garcia on September 9; Aulio Gelio Servio Tulio Avila Cartagena and
Pablo Noboa on September 10; and Ruben Miranda on September 11.

Attorney General Launches Investigation

--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (U) On September 2, Ecuador's Attorney General, Diego Garcia
Carrion, announced that his office had initiated an investigation
into Chevron's allegations and requested that the Office of the
Prosecutor General and the Judicial Council also open
investigations, which they did subsequently. In a letter to
Chevron dated the same day, Deputy Attorney General Rafael Parreno
reiterated the Attorney General's intention to "thoroughly,
aggressively and fairly investigate Chevron's allegations" and
asked that Chevron provide: unedited copies of the videotapes; a
copy of the wiring instructions allegedly sent by Patricio Garcia
through Ruben Miranda to the contractors taping the conversations;

and any other evidence Chevron wanted to have considered.

Chevron Response

-----------------------

5. (U) Chevron responded in writing to Parreno's letter on
September 4, and according to its website, on September 7 delivered
to the Deputy Attorney General a DVD containing unedited copies of
all the recordings, transcripts and highlight videos, as well as
payment instruction emails from Miranda and Patricio Garcia. In
its letter, Chevron requested that the Prosecutor General,
Washington Pesantez, investigate: 1) the individuals in the tapes
and their relationship with the judge and the executive branch; 2)
the assertion that the government had provided lawyers to help
craft the opinion against Chevron; 3) the bank account where the
bribery money was to be deposited; and 4) the relationship between
Judge Nunez and Richard Cabrera, the court appointed expert in the
lawsuit.

Prosecutor General Goes After Chevron

--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) On September 4, Chevron declined a request it had
received via email from Dr. Cevallos, Acting General Secretary of
the Office of the Prosecutor General, for Thomas Cullen, Chevron
Counsel, to make a statement in Quito on Monday, September 7.
However, it reiterated its willingness to cooperate with a good
faith investigation and to provide the materials it was sending to
the Deputy Attorney General. On September 9, press reports
revealed Prosecutor General Pesantez had asked the Attorney General
to initiate action in the United States against Chevron, presumably
under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In public statements,
Pesantez argued that Chevron had been involved in acts punishable
under U.S. anti-corruption laws, linking the company with the
former contractor, who had clandestinely recorded the tapes, and
purported efforts by that contractor to bribe the presiding judge
in its lawsuit. Secretary of Transparency, Esteban Rubio, has also
publicly supported legal action against Chevron on corruption
charges.

New Judge

--------------

7. (SBU) The first casualty of Chevron's disclosures was Judge
Juan Nunez, who had presided over the Chevron lawsuit in the Court
of Sucumbios in Lago Agrio. At the urging of General Prosecutor
Pesantez, Nunez recused himself from the case on September 4.
However, in comments to the press the same day, Pesantez expressed
confidence in Nunez' honesty and explained that he had sought the
recusal to avoid providing Chevron with any pretext to discredit
the Ecuadorian legal system or delay the lawsuit, which has already
been pending since 1993, and avoid payment of the sentence in the
lawsuit - seemingly presupposing a ruling against Chevron.

The Trial Goes On...

--------------------------

8. (SBU) According to press reports, Nicolas Zambrano, Alternate
President of the Sucumbios Court, has been designated to replace
Judge Nunez in the Chevron lawsuit. Ecuadorian legal experts
consulted by Post explain that when a judge is recused in a civil
case, a new judge is appointed and the legal process continues
without interruption. For the time being, the expectation is that
the investigations launched by the Attorney General, Prosecutor
General, and the Judicial Council will proceed on separate tracks

thereby having no impact on the Chevron lawsuit.

The Plaintiffs

-----------------

9. (U) Plaintiffs in the case, the Front for the Defense of the
Amazon, accuse Chevron of shamefully, and perhaps illegally,
manufacturing the tapes to disrupt the landmark environmental case
against it. The Front, which represents around 30,000 individuals
from the Siona, Secoya, Cofan, Huaorani and Quichua communities,
has also threatened to start legal action against Chevron in the
United States on corruption charges.

Comment

------------

10. (SBU) Investigations notwithstanding, the GoE seems intent on
limiting, to the extent possible, the impact Chevron's disclosures
will have on the timing and outcome of the pending environmental
lawsuit. A ruling in the case was expected between October 2009
and January 2010. If there is a ruling against Chevron it could
result in the largest damages award ever handed down in an
environmental case; a court appointed expert had assessed damages
of up to $27.3 billion.
HODGES

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