UPDATE 4-Chevron accuses NY State comptroller of ethics breach

Wed Nov 21, 2012 4:56am IST

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By Nichola Groom
    LOS ANGELES, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Chevron Corp sought
to open an investigation on Tuesday into New York State
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, claiming he pressured the oil
company to settle environmental litigation in Ecuador in
exchange for campaign contributions from supporters of the
lawsuit's plaintiffs.
    Chevron said it filed a complaint before the New York State
Joint Commission on Public Ethics, seeking a probe of DiNapoli
and current and past members of his staff.
    In a statement, Chevron said the plaintiffs' supporters have
contributed more than $60,000 to DiNapoli's campaign, as well as
"other political benefits."
    The complaint alleges that Steven Donziger, the plaintiffs'
U.S. legal adviser, and his associates wooed DiNapoli into
applying pressure on Chevron through campaign donations and an
offer to meet with the rock musician Sting and his wife, Trudie
Styler.  
    The company said DiNapoli and Donziger and his associates
engaged in "an apparent quid pro quo exchange."
    DiNapoli oversees the New York State Common Retirement Fund,
which owns more than $800 million of Chevron stock, the company
said, citing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
    "This is a baseless attempt by big oil to intimidate me,"
DiNapoli said in a statement. "The allegations are without
merit."
    A spokeswoman for DiNapoli, Jennifer Freeman, said the
comptroller has never met Sting.
    "Having failed at derailing the lawsuit, (Chevron) now seeks
to discredit anyone associated with it," a spokeswoman for
Donziger, Karen Hinton, said in an email.
    The specific actions Chevron objected to by DiNapoli include
sponsoring shareholder resolutions "and making public statements
against Chevron that were explicitly intended to pressure the
company to settle" the lawsuit.
    In a statement, DiNapoli said his call on Chevron to settle
the Ecuador litigation "is about protecting shareholder value
and fulfilling my fiduciary responsibility to the New York State
Common Retirement Fund."
    Chevron has been locked in an almost two-decade conflict
with residents of Ecuador's Lago Agrio region over claims that
Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001, contaminated the area from
1964 to 1992. The plaintiffs from the villages in the oil-rich
Amazon won an $18.2 billion judgment from an Ecuadorean court
against Chevron. The company claims the judgment was fraudulent
and unenforceable.
    Graham Erion, an attorney representing the Ecuadorians, said
in a statement that DiNapoli "has every right to question
Chevron's actions... Turning on its own shareholders shows how
desperate Chevron has become. Chevron needs to listen to its
investors instead of attacking them and own up to its
responsibilities in Ecuador." 
    Chevron, based in San Ramon, California, has not settled the
litigation in Ecuador.
    Because Chevron has few assets in Ecuador that can be taken
as compensation, the plaintiffs are trying to get the ruling
enforced in other countries.
    Earlier this year, DiNapoli sponsored a shareholder
resolution that would have required Chevron to appoint an
independent director with environmental expertise. At the time,
he and 39 other Chevron investors also called on the company to
settle the protracted legal battle. DiNapoli made a similar
appeal last year and in previous years.  
    A U.S. trial has been set for next fall in the Chevron
lawsuit that accuses Ecuadorean residents, their lawyers and
advisers of fraud in obtaining the pollution award.
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