RIO DE JANEIRO and SAO PAULO- Chevron Corp. on Wednesday responded sharply to the criminal charges that were filed against it and some of its executives in Brazil, saying the company is a "scapegoat" in a broader dispute over the country's oil wealth.
A federal prosecutor in Brazil on Wednesday filed charges against Chevron, drilling-rig operator Transocean Ltd. and 17 executives, accusing them of environmental crimes related to an offshore oil spill in November in which an estimated 2,400 to 3,000 barrels of oil seeped from the seabed at a well in Chevron's Frade field.
The prosecutor, Eduardo Santos de Oliveira, asked for the assets of Chevron and Transocean and 17 employees to be seized, and has asked that the companies each post a bond of 10 million Brazilian reais ($5.5 million) and each employee a bond of BRL1 million until the case is concluded, the statement said.
The president of Chevron's Brazil operations, George Buck, and three other Chevron employees have also been charged with other crimes, including obstructing the investigation, the statement said. If found guilty, Buck faces up to 31 years in jail, according to the statement.
The charges were filed with a federal court in the city of Campos, in Rio de Janeiro state, the statement said.
A lawyer for Chevron, Oscar Graca Couto, said that there had been no measurable environmental impact from the oil spill. "Not even one sardine perished," Graca Couto told reporters at a news conference in Rio de Janeiro.
Another Chevron lawyer, Nilo Batista, questioned the jurisdiction of the Brazilian courts, saying that the accident happened outside Brazilian territorial waters.
Chevron has become a scapegoat in a dispute among Brazilian states about how to distribute the wealth from massive oil fields discovered off the country's south-east coast, Batista said. Later, he said that the Brazilian reaction to the oil spill was "turning into a witch-hunt."
The company will analyze the prosecutor's charges, Batista said.
Chevron has never considered leaving Brazil, Batista said.
On Friday, a Brazilian judge had barred a group of 17 executives and employees of Chevron and Transocean from leaving the country. Batista questioned the competence of the judge in Campos, and said that the order to seize the passports was "unjustified."
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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