August 12, 2005
New Document Alleges Tie Between Chevron and Human Rights Abuses in Nigeria
by William Baue
Identified in the discovery phase of a case proceeding at state and federal levels, the invoice and
receipt indicate Chevron paid Nigerian soldiers for services on a day several villagers were
allegedly killed (part one of a two-part article.)
Timi Okoru was fishing with her children in a small boat in the village of Opia, Nigeria on January
4, 1999 when Nigerian soldiers opened fire, killing her. Two lawsuits allege that Chevron (ticker:
CVX) paid the
soldiers, and that the soldiers used Chevron-owned and -operated sea trucks and helicopters in
incidents in Opia as well as in the neighboring village of Ikenyan later that same day and on the
Parabe oil drilling platform a half year earlier. The lawsuits--one in California state court
in federal court--are being brought against Chevron by Nigerian residents represented by
EarthRights International (ERI), a
nonprofit promoting legal protection for human rights, and other lawyers.
recently posted on its website an invoice and receipt that may tie this
and other deaths in Nigeria to Chevron, raising investor concerns about the company's human rights
record. The concern is heightened by the implications of Chevron's acquisition of Unocal (UCL), a company
ensconced in similar controversy over human rights abuses on the Yadana pipeline in Myanmar (also
known as Burma.)
"In payment of services carried out by Capt. [redacted] and 22 soldiers
whom left from Escravos/Madangho to [illegible] attacks from Opia village against security agents
guarding the Searex rig with weapons including dynamites on January 4, 1999," state the invoice and
receipt, dated January 5, 1999, in scrawled handwriting. Escravos/Madangho and the Searex rig are
The captain named on the document is the same person named in sworn
depositions of witnesses who say he led the attacks, according to Rick Herz, an ERI lawyer
representing the plaintiffs who agreed to redact the captain's name.
"One thing the
invoice shows is that the soldiers were working on Chevron's behalf--when your employees commit
murder and then show up the next day to get paid for that, you are ratifying their actions when you
pay them for that, accepting what they've done as your own," Mr. Herz told SocialFunds.com.
Jeff Moore, a Chevron spokesperson, points out that the invoice specifies attacks "from" Opia,
not attacks "on" Opia, and that the invoice does not specify precisely what services the captain
and his 22 soldiers provided.
"We strongly disagree with the plaintiffs' attorneys'
characterization of the receipt," Mr. Moore told SocialFunds.com. "The receipt reflects a
longstanding industry practice of paying a small amount for providing security to people and
facilities in the Niger Delta."
"It shows about $100 was paid to 22 members of the
military--about $5 each--for protecting the Searex rig and defending the rig after it was
attacked," he continued. "Chevron Nigeria Ltd. (CNL) personnel were not present during any
'offensive' attacks of the type plaintiffs describe at Opia and Ikenyan, nor would CNL have ever
requested or authorized such attacks."
Mr. Moore's response introduces another aspect of
the Bowoto v. Chevron cases. The federal case rests on the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), a 1789 law allowing non-citizens to seek legal recourse in US courts for
violations of international law, such as summary execution and extrajudicial killing in this case,
that are not protected in their home countries. The state case charges the company with violations
Business & Professions Code 17200, alleging not only unfair business practices but also unfair,
misleading, and fraudulent business practices.
"The other thing the invoice absolutely
shows is that Chevron lied," Mr. Herz said.
The plaintiffs' complaint in state court lists
eight categories of false and/or misleading statements Chevron made after the incidents at Opia,
Ikenyan, and Parabe--"category four" addresses Chevron's denial that it paid the Nigerian soldiers
involved in the attacks.
"We do not employ the military," stated Mike Libbey, manager of
media relations for the company, in a September 30, 1998 radio interview on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, according to the plaintiffs'
complaint. "As a matter of Chevron corporate policy, we would not pay any law enforcement agency
representative," Mr. Libbey added, as quoted in an October 12, 1998 Reuters article, according to the
Of course these statements refer to the Parabe incident, and thus predate the
Opia incident slightly, but unless Chevron changed its corporate policy in the intervening several
months, Mr. Moore's and Mr. Libbey's statements do appear inconsistent.
section of the 2002 Chevron
Corporate Responsibility Report characterizes the protesters who occupied the Parabe
platform as "militant youths" who held Chevron employees "hostage." The plaintiffs' complaint
characterizes them differently, noting they were "unarmed when they arrived at the platform and
remained unarmed throughout the incident."
"They were peaceful protesters who had come to
the platform because they had serious social and environmental grievances against Chevron--they did
not hold Chevron employees hostage," said Mr. Herz.
Mr. Moore did not respond to
SocialFunds.com's questions of whether the protesters were armed, what force the protesters used to
hold the employees hostage, and why Chevron characterized them as "militant."
was armed with machetes, knives and clubs . . . " stated the Chevron website in December 2002, according to
publicly-available online archives.
The plaintiffs' complaint cites this specific
statement as an example of false and misleading statements falling into "category one" in the state
case. In her March 22, 2004 denial of Chevron's motion for summary judgment of the federal case's first phase, US
District Judge Susan Illston ruled that "there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury
could infer a cover-up or ratification of CNLís activities."
Allegations of dishonesty are
not limited to one side, however.
"Recently, 20 out of 25 Nigerian plaintiffs dropped
their claims in the case in California state court rather than responding to court-ordered
discovery," said Mr. Moore. "After admitting to a forged verification in discovery and after
testimony that other responses failed to include changes requested by the person who verified them,
three plaintiffs in the US District Court case are moving to voluntarily dismiss their claims and are trying to avoid additional questions
regarding the tainted discovery."
Unfortunately, even allegations of dishonesty are not
immune to misleading statements. A close examination of court documents reveals that two of the plaintiffs are dropping from the
roster not to avoid responding to court-ordered discovery, because they died.
Part two of
this two-part article examines investor concern about the Bowoto v. Chevron cases, as well
as the implications of Chevron's merger with Unocal on these issues.