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Chevron Assets in Argentina Frozen Over Ecuador Environmental Case

Oil giant disputes the grounds of the ruling, alleging it is 'a product of bribery, fraud, and it is illegitimate.'

An Argentine judge froze Chevron's local assets Wednesday at the request of a court in Ecuador where the U.S. oil giant has been ordered to pay $19 billion in environmental damages, plaintiffs said.

Enrique Bruchou, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, noted that Chevron (IW 500/3) only holds $2 billion in assets in Argentina.

"An Argentine judge has decreed Chevron assets in Argentina frozen in compliance with the Ecuadoran judge's request," he told reporters.

Judge Adrian Elcuj Miranda ruled that all Chevron Argentina shares and dividends, along with its 14% interest in the Oleoductos del Valle that transports crude oil from western Argentina to the Buenos Aires area, were affected by the freeze, according to Bruchou.

The decision will also affect 40% of the company's refinery sales and 40% of any bank account Chevron holds in Argentina.

"No Legal Right to Embargo"

Chevron said the move was untenable, disputing the grounds of the ruling and alleging it was "a product of bribery, fraud, and it is illegitimate."

"Chevron Corp. ... has no assets in Argentina. All operations in Argentina are conducted by subsidiaries that have nothing to do with the plaintiffs' fraud in Ecuador," Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said by email.

"The plaintiffs' lawyers have no legal right to embargo subsidiary assets in Argentina and should not be allowed to disrupt Argentina's pursuit of its important energy resources.

"We do not believe that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law," Robertson added.

In October, Chevron said it was disappointed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision not to block the massive fine sought by Ecuador for environmental damage in the Amazon.

Chevron Corp. had appealed an Ecuadoran court order to pay $18.2 billion, an amount that was subsequently raised to $19 billion in August.

The top U.S. court gave no explanation for its reluctance to take up the case.

The Ecuadoran complaint stems from years of unchecked pollution in the Amazon attributed to Texaco Petroleum, which Chevron acquired in 2001.

Texaco polluted large areas of Ecuador's Amazon jungle when it operated in the region from 1964 to 1990, a decade before being acquired by Chevron, according to indigenous groups and local farmers.

After years of litigation, an Ecuadoran court in February 2011 ordered Chevron to pay the huge fine. Chevron has accused the Ecuadoran judge who ruled on the case of fraud and breach of trust.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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