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Chevron vs. Ecuador in Pollution Lawsuit

Chevron Corp., on trial here for allegedly failing to clean up billions of gallons of toxic wastewater in the Ecuadorean jungle, on Monday criticized the judge presiding over the case for creating "obstacles" to a fair trial.

A class-action suit by 30,000 jungle settlers and Indians seeks US$6 billion in cleanup costs for the jungle region where Texaco Petroleum Co. spent three decades extracting oil before it merged with San Ramon, California-based Chevron in 2001.

Chevron denies the allegations and says Texaco, which ended its operations in 1992, followed Ecuadorean environmental laws in a US$40 million cleanup, which the government approved in 1998.

Chevron's San Ramon-based lawyer Silvia Garrigo told The Associated Press in Quito that most of the evidence, which includes water and soil samples from the area, has "no legal or scientific validity."

She said Judge German Yanez granted the plaintiffs' request on Monday not to inspect the laboratory where the evidence is being processed.

"The judge has done a number of things that are obstacles to a fair and transparent trial," Garrigo said.

Steven Dozinger, a legal adviser for the plantiffs, called Chevron's comments "a desperate, last-ditch strategy to derail a case it is losing."

In June, the court appointed a geological engineer to carry out a series of inspections to determine if there was any environmental damage and how much Chevron would have to pay.

Chevron says the inspector is not qualified and is working on the premise that Chevron is the only company that could be responsible for the alleged damage, even though Texaco worked as a minority shareholder in an agreement with state oil company Petroecuador.

"If this was a case with a legal and scientific basis, they never would have sued Chevron. They would have sued Petroecuador," Garrigo said.

President Rafael Correa has supported the plaintiffs' claim. He called Chevron's cleanup "a fraud for the country" earlier this year.

Dozinger said Chevron's criticism of the judge "no legal validity, it is baseless and frankly, it shows that this is a company that doesn't respect laws in country's overseas where it operates."

The plaintiffs tried for a decade to have their case heard in a U.S. federal court before shifting their battle to a makeshift courtroom in the ramshackle jungle town of Lago Agrio.

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