QUITO, Ecuador - An Ecuadorean court ruled that plaintiffs in an environmental lawsuit against Chevron Corp. should collect the oil company's assets and receivables in the South American country, estimated by the plaintiffs' lawyers to be worth $200 million.
Chevron, which denies responsibility for alleged environmental contamination in Ecuador, doesn't have significant assets in the Andean nation.
According to the order, issued Monday by Judge Wilfrido Erazo Araujo and reviewed Tuesday by Dow Jones Newswires, Chevron trademarks affected include Texaco, Ursa, Havoline, Doro, Geotex, Meropa, Motex, Multigear, Regal, Toro, Texathern, Thuban, and others. All are used in Ecuador under licensing arrangements with local distributors.
The court also ordered a freeze on all bank accounts related to Chevron, Texaco and any subsidiary in the country.
Ecuadorean indigenous groups are seeking compensation from Chevron for contamination of their land as a result of Texaco's operations in the country from 1964 to 1992. Chevron, which strongly denies the accusation, inherited the lawsuit in 2001, when it acquired Texaco.
Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a press release Tuesday that included among the receivables and assets ordered to be turned over are a $96.3 million debt that Ecuador's government owes Chevron, funds in various bank accounts held in Ecuador by Chevron and its subsidiaries and licensing fees generated by the use of Chevron trademarks in the country.
"The total amount in assets could generate an estimated $200 million for the plaintiffs, who won their case in 2011 after an eight-year trial," the release said.
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said the company "hasn't put a number on it."
In July 2012, an Ecuadorean judge said Chevron must pay $19 billion for environmental damages in the country's Amazon region, nearly $1 billion more than previously stated.
"This is a huge first step for the rainforest villagers on the road to collecting the entire $19 billion judgment," said Mr. Fajardo.
Mr. Fajardo also said plaintiffs reiterate their goal of collecting the entire $19 billion by seeking to seize Chevron assets in countries around the world.
This strategy has yet to pay off, as third-party countries so far haven't acted on behalf of the claimants.
The $96.3 million debt stems from an international arbitration in favor of Chevron related to numerous commercial disputes between the U.S.-based oil company and Ecuador's state-owned oil company, Petroecuador.
Those funds will have to be transferred by the government to the rainforest villagers as part of the collection effort, Mr. Fajardo said.
Chevron's Mr. Robertson said the order isn't surprising.
"The Lago Agrio court's action puts Ecuador in further breach of international law. Chevron intends to challenge the Lago Agrio court's unlawful action through all available remedies--inside and outside of Ecuador," said Mr. Robertson.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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