* Top Ecuador court halves Chevron fine to $9.5 billion
* Texaco cleaned up area before sold assets, says Chevron
* Chevron fighting case in courts in U.S. and abroad
(Recasts with detail on lawyer fraud allegation, byline)
By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO, Nov 13 Ecuador's highest court upheld a
verdict that U.S. oil company Chevron Corp is
responsible for pollution in an Amazon rainforest, but halved
the fine imposed in a previous trial to $9.5 billion, a decision
the company dismissed as illegitimate.
Chevron took the case to the National Court of Justice after
a lower court deemed in 2011 that Chevron was responsible for
pollution caused by U.S. oil company Texaco, which operated
there between 1964 and 1992, and whose assets Chevron bought in
The judge in the 2011 ruling ordered the company to pay $9.5
billion plus an additional $9.5 billion for refusing to publicly
apologize for the pollution.
The National Court of Justice on Tuesday determined there
had been no legal basis to sanction Chevron for not apologizing.
Villagers in the Lago Agrio region say the pollution has
harmed their health. Chevron counters that Texaco cleaned up the
area before handing it over to Ecuador's state oil company,
Petroecuador, which Chevron says bears responsibility.
Chevron spokesman James Craig said the decision against the
company, confirmed by the National Court of Justice late on
Tuesday, was "illegitimate and inapplicable."
The company's New York-traded shares were down just a
fraction at $119.58 in afternoon trading.
"The only decision that the Court of Justice could have
taken ... was to declare the trial null and void and leave this
illegitimate sentence without effect," he said in a statement on
Chevron says the original verdict against it in Ecuador was
obtained fraudulently and it is pursuing a case in New York
against the U.S. lawyer representing the plaintiffs who it says
resorted to corruption to obtain the ruling.
A former Ecuadorian judge, Alberto Guerra, testified in that
trial last month that lawyer Steven Donziger bribed him to
ghost-write rulings for another judge giving financial
compensation to the villagers.
The 200-page verdict said no fraud had been proven nor any
procedural flaw in the original trial.
Chevron is fighting its case in various international
tribunals to nullify the verdict and multi-billion dollar fine.
In a further statement on Wednesday, it said it was reviewing
the Ecuadorian court's decision before deciding how to proceed.
Pablo Fajardo, the lawyer now representing the plaintiffs,
said he was encouraged by the latest decision as they pursue
legal action against Chevron in five other countries where the
company has assets, including Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Peter Murphy;
Editing by Bob Burgdorfer and Andre Grenon)