A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a racketeering charge against
Chevron Corp. brought by Nigerian villagers who believe the oil giant
condoned human rights abuses carried out by the West African nation's
District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco ruled that the Nigerians
didn't provide enough evidence to show that the San Ramon, Calif.,
corporation financially benefited from the alleged atrocities that
occurred in 1998 and 1999, when military security forces fought
opponents of Chevron's Nigerian oil operations.
The lawsuit's backers "present no evidence that killing or otherwise
suppressing protesters saves defendants money or otherwise increases
their profit margin," Illston wrote. Thus, there is no support for the
claim that Chevron "gained a competitive advantage in the United
States, or impacted the U.S. economy, by engaging in alleged
racketeering activity," she added.
Illston's decision is a victory for Chevron, several liability claims
are still pending in the case. In addition, a similar suit remains
active in San Francisco Superior Court, alleging that Chevron's use of
Nigerian forces for security violated California state laws against
unfair business practices.
In both lawsuits, the Nigerians seek
damages from Chevron and its Chevron Nigeria subsidiary for violent
clashes that the groups say killed and injured Nigerians and left two
villages burned to the ground. The villagers accused Chevron, through
its local subsidiary, of seeking assistance from the Nigerian security
forces and helping them carry out the alleged attacks.
second-largest U.S. oil company has denied involvement in the
incidents, disclaims liability for militia actions and disputes aspects
of the Nigerians' accounts. Chevron didn't return calls seeking comment.
the state lawsuit, a judge Wednesday denied a Chevron motion to dismiss
the case on the grounds that it couldn't be held responsible for the
actions of the Nigerian security forces, said Marco Simons, U.S. legal
director for EarthRights International, a group representing the
Nigerians in both Chevron lawsuits.
If either one of the cases
survives the oil company's legal challenges, Chevron will become the
first corporation to face trial on charges stemming from alleged human
rights abuses overseas, Simons said.
A human-rights suit against Unocal in Myanmar was settled in 2004 before reaching trial.
Despite losing Wednesday's federal ruling, Simons was upbeat about the lawsuit's chances.
Illston sided with Chevron on the racketeering claim, "what she said
along the way … is extremely significant in terms of the rest of the
case," he said. In one section of her decision, Simons noted, Illston
appeared to acknowledge evidence unfavorable to Chevron.
Nigerians, Illston said in her ruling, "have presented evidence of a
link between the conduct of Chevron in the United States and the
attacks in Nigeria at issue," as well as evidence that the corporation
had substantial control over its Nigerian unit, that it "designed and
adjusted the general security policies and procedures" of its
subsidiary and approved payments from the subsidiary to the Nigerian
government security forces.
Illston noted evidence that after
the attacks, Chevron's U.S. headquarters "engaged in a media campaign
to cover up CNL's [Chevron Nigeria] involvement in the attacks." The
judge also said, however, that the evidence showed the corporation did
not "directly cause the losses."
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