ECUADOR: Expert asks Ecuador court to fine Chevron $7-$16 bln

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In a report to the court, geologist Richard Cabrera said the low end
of the range represented the cost to remediate soils and pay for health
care costs, a water system and infrastructure improvements.

The high end of the range was based on an "unjust enrichment" penalty.

The lawsuit, which peasants and Indians in Ecuador brought in the
early 1990s, contends that Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001,
polluted the jungle and damaged their health by dumping 18 billion
gallons (68 billion liters) of contaminated water from 1972 to 1992.

The plaintiffs said in December that a ruling in the case was expected sometime in 2008.

Chevron has argued that it was released from any liability because
it paid $40 million for an environmental cleanup in the 1990s, and
blames state oil company Petroecuador for much of the pollution.

Chevron General Counsel Charles James disputed the findings of the
report, saying the case had become a political issue in Ecuador.

"This is no longer a private lawsuit; it is a working partnership
between the government and plaintiffs," he told Reuters. "This is more
extortion that a real lawsuit. We will protest this report."

He did not rule out reaching an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs, but said the company would not be "blackmailed."

(Reporting by Matt Daily in New York and Alonso Soto in Quito; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

AMP Section Name:Environment