Ecuador Seeks U.S. Action Against Chevron

Company is accused of releasing video showing judge being bribed in environmental case.

Ecuador said Wednesday it was seeking U.S. legal action against Chevron after the American oil giant released videos allegedly showing politicians paying off a judge in a high-profile environmental case.

Ecuador Attorney General Washington Pesantez said he had sought action through the U.S. Justice Department for possible violations of American federal law over Chevrons actions.

"U.S. federal law punishes any U.S. citizen or entity that commits corrupt acts abroad, which Chevron may well have done," his office said in a statement.

The U.S. oil giant denied making the videos and said Ecuador was trying to deflect attention from the facts of the case.

Chevron faces claims it is responsible for damage in the Amazon rainforest caused by oil extraction between 1964 and 1990 by Texaco, a company it bought in 2001.

The case took a stunning twist last-week when Chevron issued its own allegations against the judge presiding over the case Juan Nunez accusing him of involvement in a bribery scam.

Chevron posted on its Web site videos it said showed members of President Rafael Correa's ruling Alianza Pais party promising a $3 million "commission" to Nunez if he hands down a damning verdict against the oil giant.

The videos provoked a firestorm and rebuttals by government officials, and prompted Nunez on Thursday to offer to recuse himself from the case.

Chevron's release of the footage, shot on hidden cameras, came shortly before Nunez was expected to announce his verdict on the case in October.

The stakes are high, with experts estimating in 2008 that Chevron could be liable for damages of up to $27 billion.

If correct, the figure would be significantly higher that the record $5 billion, later reduced to $500 million, that ExxonMobil was ordered to pay over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

The case comes against the backdrop of increasingly tense relations between Ecuador's left-leaning president and foreign oil companies in the country, who are reassessing their operations.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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