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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 and another 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.

ERI 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 Chevron facilities.

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 of California 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 complaint.

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.

A special 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."

"The group 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.

 

 
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