A federal judge in California threw out a racketeering claim against Chevron Corp. filed by Nigerians who claimed the oil company conspired with the military and police to gun down demonstrators protesting their operations in the African nation.
Nine Nigerians, represented by lawyers from EarthRights International and other nonprofit groups, sued Chevron in a San Francisco federal court in 1999 after Nigerian soldiers and police shot protesters who opposed drilling by a Chevron subsidiary and destroyed villages where they lived.
The plaintiffs failed "to present evidence that defendants gained a competitive advantage in the United States or impacted the U.S. economy, by engaging in the alleged racketeering activity," U.S. District Judge Susan Illston wrote.
While the racketeering charge did not apply, Illston acknowledged evidence showed that Chevron played a role in the subsidiary's security policies, approved payments to the military and attempted to cover up the subsidiary's involvement in the attacks.
The ruling did not affect other pending accusations that San Ramon, California-based Chevron committed crimes against humanity under international law and eight related offenses under California law.
Illston also called the "human toll taken by those encounters" great and the results, "sad, maybe even tragic."
"She's clearly signaling this decision doesn't affect the viability of the other claims in this case," said Marco Simons of EarthRights International.
The Nigerians allege soldiers, supported by Chevron Nigeria Ltd., destroyed homes and killed or injured dozens of people. They also claim Chevron provided helicopters, boats and planes to Nigerian soldiers who fired at demonstrators in 1998 on an offshore oil platform and in 1999 at two villages where protesters lived.
Chevron lawyers have said the protesters were armed youths who demanded money and took more than 200 workers hostage. They were shot during an attempt to rescue the hostages. The company has argued the case belongs in African courts.
A Chevron lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
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