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In epic case, Chevron fined $9.5b

By Associated Press
February 15, 2011

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QUITO, Ecuador — An Ecuadoran judge ruled yesterday in an epic environmental case that Chevron Corp. was responsible for oil drilling contamination in a wide swath of Ecuador’s northern jungle and ordered the oil giant to pay $9.5 billion in damages and cleanup costs.

The amount was far below the $27.3 billion award recommended by a court-appointed expert but appeared to be the highest damage award ever in an environmental lawsuit.

But whether the plaintiffs — including indigenous groups who say their hunting and fishing grounds were decimated by toxic wastewater that also raised the cancer rate — can collect remains to be seen.

In a statement Chevron called the decision “illegitimate and unenforceable’’ and said it would appeal. It has long contended it could never get a fair trial in Ecuador and has removed all assets from this politically volatile Andean country, whose leftist president, Rafael Correa, had voiced support for the plaintiffs.

Chevron, which earned $19.1 billion last year, said it did not believe the judgment “enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law.’’

The high-stakes case, fraught with corporate espionage and geopolitical intrigue, has been winding its way through US and Ecuadoran courts for more than 17 years.