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Chevron Slams Canadian Backdoor in $9.5 Billion Pollution Fight

An Ontario judge protects the oil giant’s subsidiary in a decades-old court battle with Ecuadorian villagers. But it isn’t over yet.
Protesters demonstrate in front of a New York City courthouse against Chevron on Oct. 15, 2013.
Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Now entering its 24th year, an international legal war seeking to hold Chevron Corp. liable for oil pollution in the Amazon has featured battles in courtrooms ranging from the U.S. to Ecuador to Canada. In a blow to Ecuadorian villagers who contend the company sullied their lands, an Ontario judge last week protected Chevron’s Canadian assets from being seized as part of the fight.

That’s a big victory for the second-largest U.S. fossil fuel company, because in 2011 Chevron lost a court case in Ecuador over the question of liability. As far as the Ecuadorian judiciary is concerned, Chevron owes some $9.5 billion, plus interest, to the villagers. But the energy giant, contending that the enormous judgment was obtained by fraud, has refused to pay. Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, so there’s nothing there for plaintiffs to seize. That’s why the case migrated north to Canada, where a subsidiary has operations the villagers would like to liquidate to cover their verdict.