Lawyers for Amazon Indians embroiled in a $6.1 billion pollution case against Chevron Corp. in Ecuador asked a local court Monday to move faster, a month after the country's government filed its latest accusation against the oil giant in the United States.
The accusation, made in a New York district court on June 20, could help the jungle dwellers' case, their lawyers added. Ecuador contended that Chevron hid information about the magnitude of contamination to streams and rivers during the company's oil operations in Ecuador from 1972 to 1992.
In a separate case, Amazon forest residents, including the Cofan Indian tribe, originally filed a lawsuit in Ecuador against Chevron in 2003 demanding damages to help with clean-up costs.
Their lawyers said Ecuador's latest move could be key to their case.
"This is a huge boost in our efforts to end the litigation in the local court," said Steven Donziger, a member of the legal team representing the 30,000 jungle dwellers. "We believe guilt has been proven."
The jungle dwellers, who filed their first lawsuit in 1993, accuse Chevron's Texaco subsidiary of dumping 18 billion gallons of oil-laden water into the environment during its oil operations in Ecuador. Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001.
Chevron denies any wrongdoing.
The plaintiffs are seeking $6.1 billion in damages. The Cofan are a small tribe who describe themselves as "guardians of the rainforest" who have struggled against the encroachment of oil exploration since the 1960s.
Chevron says it has fulfilled its environmental obligations in the area through a $40 million clean-up project approved by the Ecuadorean government in a 1998 agreement.
The company filed an arbitration demand against Ecuador in 2004, seeking a ruling requiring the South American nation to assume responsibility for further clean up costs.
But the government now argues in a U.S federal court that the 1998 agreement is not valid because the company released misleading information about the extent of the environmental damage with the purpose of inducing Ecuador to sign it.
Chevron said Ecuador's fraud charges were unfounded.
"We strongly reject Ecuador's accusations," Rodrigo Perez, the head of Chevron's Texaco subsidiary in Ecuador, told Reuters.
"But we will continue with the legal processes here and in New York ... these accusations should have no influence on the local judge's ruling," Perez said.
He added that the government had inspected and approved his company's clean-up project.