THE MATING OF
HONEYMOON IN HAWAII
Sightings from The Catbird Seat
~ o ~
February 3, 2006
Chevron Spin Cannot Hide Company’s Legal Woes Over Multi-Billion Dollar Liability In Ecuador
After Call For SEC Investigation, Oil Giant Issues Bizarre Press Release That Misrepresents Data
Quito (Feb. 3, 2006) — The first official court report in Chevron’s multi-billion class-action pollution trial in Ecuador’s rainforest found the company had left massive amounts of life-threatening contaminants in a site that it claimed to have remediated.
The report offered additional proof that Texaco (now Chevron) committed fraud during its “clean-up” of what is believed to be the world’s worst oil-related ecological catastrophe, according to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group representing 30,000 people suing the oil giant.
These basic facts were not mentioned by the Chevron public relations team, which, on February 2nd, issued a bizarre press bulletin claiming the court report completely exonerated the company.
Coalition spokesperson Luis Yanza, representing the villages suing the oil giant, characterized the Chevron press release as “inaccurate” but “unsurprising given their posture in the litigation which denies obvious conclusions one can draw from the evidence.”
Said Yanza: “The Chevron people have spun the facts so fast they have propelled themselves into a parallel universe completely disconnected from the reality on the ground in Ecuador.”
Contrary to Chevron’s Feb. 2 press release, the Ecuador court report found a well site known as Sacha-53 had high levels of toxic contaminants, according to scientific experts for the plaintiffs. The court report also found 28 separate water and soil samples that contain harmful chemicals in violation of Ecuadorian norms, generally considered more lax than those in the United States; dangerous levels of carcinogens such as cadmium and other toxins such as barium, nickel and lead; and levels of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons more than 100 times higher than maximum allowable levels in most U.S. states for cases where groundwater could be contaminated, as is the case in Ecuador.
The Feb. 2 Chevron press release came one day after the environmental group Amazon Watch called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Chevron management for possible fraud after failing to disclose the company’s liability in the Ecuador litigation to shareholders. The liability has been estimated by Amazon Watch to be between $10 and $20 billion, if one includes clean-up costs and personal damages to thousands of victims. Though the trial began in 2003 and is expected to end next year, Chevron has never mentioned it in its public filings.
Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, is accused in the lawsuit of having dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water into the Amazon rainforest. That pollution included more than 30 times more crude oil than the Exxon Valdez spill. The suit alleges that the dumping has led to the near-extinction of two indigenous tribes and elevated rates of cancers, spontaneous miscarriages, and other oil-related health problems. The trial has generated a transcript more than 80,000 pages in length.
“The Chevron press release is corporate cynicism writ large,” said Bill Powers, who has visited the sites as a guest of the affected communities and who has studied the court report.
Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, who sent the letter asking for the SEC to open an investigation of Chevron, added: “With this press release, the company is again providing further evidence that it is misleading the public markets and its shareholders by covering up its massive potential liability in Ecuador.”
Chevron has not denied Texaco dumped toxic waste water into the rainforest, but claims the government released it from further clean-up obligations after it completed a remediation program in the mid-1990s. The remediation cost the company $40 million, while the plaintiffs estimate a comprehensive clean-up would cost at least $6.14 billion, based on an independent assessment by the American firm Global Environmental Operations. The plaintiffs assert that the limited clean-up work by Texaco was performed fraudulently to deceive the Ecuadorian government.
The court’s scientific report from Sacha-53 is the latest in a series of 44 reports submitted by technical experts for both sides that cover 22 contaminated sites inspected by the judge. Both Chevron’s scientists and technical experts for the villagers have found extensive contamination covering 100% of the 22 sites reported, according to the Coalition. This report was different in that it was submitted by experts appointed directly by the judge in the case to assess the expert reports by both sides.
Powers, a petroleum engineer with engineering and environmental consultancy E-Tech, who recently visited the contaminated sites in Ecuador and reviewed the latest court report, said: “Chevron’s press bulletin misrepresents the Ecuadorian court expert’s report. The company must spend its time focusing on clean-up of a major public health threat rather than trying to spin a sampling program the company specifically designed to avoid testing the contamination hotspots.”
– For full details, including independent scientific reports, of the landmark Ecuador lawsuit and the international campaign to hold Chevron to account, visit www.chevrontoxico.com or www.texacotoxico.com
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September 8, 2001
Chevron settles out
of court with
rebel gas dealer
Frank Young will give up the
Kakaako station that his family
has operated since 1953
By Tim Ruel, Star-Bulletin
Chevron Corp. will pay an undisclosed sum to Honolulu gas dealer and frequent company critic Frank Young, who, in return, will vacate his Kakaako gas station as part of a confidential settlement of two lawsuits.
In 1999 the company had sued to evict Young from the Chevron dealership, run by his family since 1953, claiming that Young had failed to operate the station during proper hours.
Young countersued, saying Chevron was retaliating against him for criticizing the company publicly.
Young has frequently accused major oil companies in Hawaii, including Chevron, of overcharging consumers. The company is now battling the state, which filed a $2 billion antitrust lawsuit against it and other oil companies, alleging collusion in keeping Hawaii’s gas prices artificially high….
According to a statement issued by Chevron and the dealer, Young must vacate the Queen Street station by Jan. 15 and find a new home for his auto repair business.
Chevron spokesman Albert Chee said the company will continue doing business at the station, but Chevron has not decided whether to keep the site as a dealership or switch to a company-run station.
Chee would not disclose the settlement terms, citing an agreement with Young.
Chevron’s suit against Young had been scheduled to go to trial Tuesday before U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra.
In May, Ezra declined to rule the case in favor of Chevron, denying the company’s motion for partial summary judgment. Ezra had made the same ruling against Chevron last year but allowed the oil company to refile the motion after Young completed discovery, the fact-finding stage of a case.
In the May ruling, Ezra said summary judgments are meant to eliminate frivolous lawsuits and that the dispute between Young and Chevron should be heard by a jury because of its significance.
Chevron had been seeking to exclude several pieces of evidence from the trial scheduled for next week, including statements that Young had run the station well and testimony that a Chevron employee had told him the hours were not important.
At the time Chevron sued, Young was one of the company’s top service station operators in Hawaii, with a 92 percent increase in gas sales in a nine-month period.
September 8, 2001
Chevron, Texaco win
FTC approval to merge
The Federal Trade Commission has approved the $46.6 billion merger of Chevron Corp. and Texaco Inc., allowing the formation of the world’s fourth-largest investor-owned oil company, ChevronTexaco Corp.
Under a consent order approved yesterday by the FTC, Texaco will shed several of its businesses to avoid antitrust concerns, including its interest in Equilon Enterprises LLC, a research and manufacturing joint venture with Shell.
The deal has the approval of 12 state attorneys general, including Hawaii Attorney General Earl Anzai.
“We believe this divestiture addresses the potential anti-competitive effects of the merger between these two powerful oil companies,” Anzai said yesterday.
Anzai said Hawaii antitrust officials were initially concerned the merger would give the company too much control of the oil market. The state has a pending $2 billion antitrust lawsuit against the major oil companies in Hawaii for allegedly overcharging local consumers. Chevron and Texaco are included in the federal suit.
Shareholders of Chevron and Texaco will hold separate stockholder meetings on Oct. 9 to seek approval of the deal.
October 14, 2002
State to sue over
Chevron’s back tax
Lawyers are sought to sue the
oil firm for half a billion dollars
State Attorney General Earl Anzai said the state will begin a nationwide search for lawyers to make a case that oil firm ChevronTexaco Corp. owes Hawaii more than half a billion dollars in unpaid taxes.
Anzai said the lawyers must be willing to work on a contingent-fee basis. The deadline for applications is Oct. 21.
The move comes just seven weeks before the end of the term of Gov. Ben Cayetano, who last month ordered Anzai to look into a report that Chevron evaded more than $3 billion in state and federal taxes.
The report, released in September by two accounting professors who have taught at the University of Hawaii, received national attention. The professors, using documents from an earlier Internal Revenue Service case against Chevron, said Chevron paid inflated prices for crude oil to Caltex, its joint venture in Indonesia, lowering Chevron’s tax liability in the United States.
Chevron paid higher taxes in Indonesia, but was reimbursed with a U.S. tax credit, according to the report.
The firm also received free oil from the Indonesian government as a “kickback,” the professors said.
Chevron paid $675 million to settle an IRS audit in the 1990s. The firm has said the report revealed nothing new about the company’s practices.
The accounting professors, Jeffrey Gramlich and James Wheeler, said they approached Hawaii and California officials a year ago about building a case against Chevron. The professors want state officials to issue subpoenas for more information from Chevron, so they can continue their study.
At the time, Hawaii and California officials did not proceed against Chevron. Cayetano ordered Anzai to look into the case after a Star-Bulletin report last month that estimated the unpaid state tax debt could be $563 million.
“A half billion dollars is a great deal of money for Hawaii, and I’m not inclined to walk away from it if we don’t have to,” Cayetano said last month. The state’s total revenue for fiscal 2001 was $3.4 billion.
Earlier this year, the state settled a $2 billion antitrust lawsuit against Chevron and Hawaii’s major oil companies for $35 million.
January 17, 2002
State settles oil suit for 1%
The $2 billion action overinflated gas prices finally
sputters out for a penny on the dollar
By Tim Ruel, Star-Bulletin
The state has agreed to end its three-year price-fixing lawsuit against Hawaii’s major oil companies in return for a $20 million settlement from the five firms still fighting the case, a payment that would be 1 percent of the roughly $2 billion the state had been seeking.
A deal in principle was reached between all sides yesterday after six months of mediation, said attorney Clyde Matsui, who served as mediator and discovery master in the suit. The companies and the state must still negotiate specific points of the settlement, he said. Matsui would not comment on the specific amount of the settlement….
The money comes on top of $15 million the state won in a settlement in 2000 with two companies, BHP Hawaii Inc. and Tesoro Petroleum Corp., which opted out of the suit and denied wrongdoing. Still contesting the case were Hawaii’s market leader, Chevron Corp., as well as Tosco Corp., Texaco Inc., Shell Oil Co. and Unocal Corp.
“If it’s $20 million, we all lost,” said Frank Young, a former Chevron dealer and frequent critic of the company. Chevron sued in 1999 to evict Young from the Kakaako station operated by his company since 1953, and under a confidential settlement, Young abandoned the station on Tuesday. “I’m all depressed now,” Young said.
He added that he hoped the state Legislature would react to the deal by discussing regulations for Hawaii’s gas prices, which have long been among the highest in the nation.
“It is a settlement that I am a little disappointed in,” Gov. Ben Cayetano said yesterday morning to reporters. “But it depends on the perspective of the judges.” Local oil prices have gone down since the state filed the suit, Cayetano noted.
The state sued the companies in October 1998, alleging the firms secretly formed a conspiracy to milk profits from Hawaii’s drivers by keeping prices artificially high. The firms denied the charges and said that the lawsuit, filed shortly before the 1998 gubernatorial election, was political.
The settlement comes at a significant point in the case, as senior U.S. District Judge Samuel King considers motions for summary judgment argued by the oil companies in hearings in November. In summary judgment a defendant seeks to dismiss entire counts, or even a whole case, on the basis that there is not enough evidence to warrant a trial. In rebuttal the state said it had plenty of evidence, including documents that showed officials at competing companies were sharing their local wholesale prices.
The state also said it had proof that Chevron, operator of one of two oil refineries in Hawaii, would sell gasoline to the other companies with the understanding that the firms would not seek better prices elsewhere, such as by importing.
Shortly before the November hearings, King ordered that the oil companies come up with a plan to open the summary motion documents to the public. The documents, like the bulk of filings in the case, have been under seal. The oil companies have argued that the information should be secret because many of the documents contain competitive financial information. In his order, however, King noted that much of the case rests on the extent of the profits the companies have earned from the Hawaii market.
All the documents in the case would eventually become available to the public, but the oil companies would have the opportunity to blot out specific pieces of information. It is not clear how much the companies would be able to redact.
It will be interesting to see how much information about the profitability of the companies becomes public, because the data could enrage people or mean nothing at all, said Tim Hamilton, a mainland petroleum analyst who has studied Hawaii’s market. The whole point of an antitrust lawsuit should be to uncover a trail of collusion, Hamilton said.
“If these documents go public, the Legislature will have a trail to follow. The public will be upset even more than it is now, and there’s a chance the Legislature will take an action,” Hamilton said.
In March 1998, months before the state filed suit, the Star-Bulletin published a story with an analysis by Hamilton that said Hawaii consumers were overcharged more than $81 million for gasoline in the previous 14 months because of artificially high wholesale prices. At the time, Chevron and other companies said the analysis was simplistic and flawed.
In recent court filings, the state said that any potential damages from the suit would likely go to the state highway fund, not directly to consumers. The fund generally pays for road maintenance, but some money has been transferred to the state’s general fund, according to records kept by the state Transportation Department….
“This is the most intense 36 hours I’ve ever been through,” said Matsui, who has handled mediation in lawsuits involving the former Bishop Estate and the Board of Water Supply. “We started off Monday with everyone hollering ‘no.'”
The court ordered the state and the companies not to talk about details of the settlement until an agreement has been finalized, and representatives of both sides declined comment today. The settlement should be filed with the court soon for public review, and a hearing would be scheduled for King to sign off.
Because the state sued on behalf of Hawaii’s residents, people will have the right to say they want to be excluded from the terms of the settlement, Matsui said. He noted that members of the public have rarely exercised that right.
– – –
The gasoline antitrust lawsuit
Key developments in the state’s antitrust lawsuit:
>> March 1998: Gov. Ben Cayetano directs the state attorney general to determine whether an investigation of Hawaii’s highest-in-the-nation gas prices is warranted.
>> Oct. 2, 1998: State files $500 million suit against Hawaii’s two refineries and major gasoline wholesalers for allegedly overcharging local consumers for years. Named in the lawsuit are 13 corporations, including Chevron Corp., BHP Hawaii Inc., Shell Oil Co., Texaco Inc., Tesoro Petroleum Corp., Tosco Corp. and Unocal Corp.
>> March 14, 1999: Judge Samuel P. King rejects oil company motions to dismiss the state’s antitrust suit.
>> March 25, 1999: State ups the amount of the lawsuit to $1.8 billion, saying the companies profited far more than first anticipated.
>> January 2000: BHP Hawaii Inc. and Tesoro Petroleum Corp. settle the suit and deny wrongdoing. They pay the state $15 million.
>> July 2001: The five remaining defendants — Chevron Corp., Tosco Corp., Texaco Inc., Shell Oil Co. and Unocal Corp. — file motions under seal seeking a summary judgment to dismiss the case.
>> November 2001: Judge King orders some court filings opened to the public and hears arguments over the motions for summary judgment.
>> Jan. 16, 2002: The state and five defendants reach a tentative settlement for a reported payment of $20 million.
November 18, 2003
Ex-Governor Did Not Know of
Law Firm’s Oil Giant Ties
By Lynnley Browning and David Cay Johnston, New York Times
The former governor of Hawaii who ordered an investigation into accusations of tax fraud by ChevronTexaco says he was unaware that the law firm hired to investigate had worked for the predecessors of the company, which the firm eventually cleared of wrongdoing.
The former governor, Benjamin J. Cayetano, said last week that the state should not have selected the law firm, Winston & Strawn of Chicago, because of what he termed a conflict of interest.
Last July, Winston & Strawn exonerated ChevronTexaco of accusations raised by two accounting professors that it had cheated federal and state coffers out of $3.25 billion in taxes, including $536 million to Hawaii, through a complex pricing method over 30 years involving a project in Indonesia.
The exoneration, which came seven months after Mr. Cayetano was voted out of office, prompted his successor, Gov. Linda Lingle, not to sue the oil company.
James R. Thompson, Winston & Strawn’s chairman and managing partner, who is a former governor of Illinois, said he saw no conflict in the firm having represented Chevron and Texaco, which became ChevronTexaco in 2001, and in investigating the merged company for Hawaii.
“No. Zero,” he said.
In documents outlining its qualifications to Hawaii’s attorney general office, the law firm wrote in November 2002 that “none of the work that we did for Chevron USA is related to the matters, facts or legal issues to be prosecuted here.” The work concerned hedging transactions and the environment, it wrote.
But Jeffrey Gramlich, an accounting professor at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, and one of the two academics who asserted tax fraud by ChevronTexaco from 1970 to 2000, said Winston & Strawn had also represented Texaco on at least three cases, in the early to mid-1980’s.
Winston & Strawn did not mention those specific cases to the State of Hawaii.
Hugh Jones, an assistant attorney general under Mr. Cayetano’s and Governor Lingle’s administrations, said Winston & Strawn was selected from among a dozen contenders for what he termed its tax law experience.
April 3, 2004
GOP Hypocrite of the Week:
A BUZZFLASH EDITORIAL
During his reign as the longest serving governor in the history of Illinois, they called the tall former U.S. Prosecutor, “Big Jim.”
But as a member of the 9/11 Commission, James Thompson, now head of a prominent Chicago law firm, has justly earned the honor of being named the BuzzFlash GOP Hypocrite of the Week.
Thompson, along with other Republican 9/11 Commission panel members, was provided anti-Clarke information by FOX “White House Propaganda” news. In addition, we can only speculate on what unseemly message points the White House itself spoon fed to the GOP partisans on the commission.
When it came his turn to question Clarke, “Big Jim” Thompson went after Clarke’s credibility like a rat on $25 brie. Thompson, however, was up against an honest man who knew that the truth can force an overzealous prosecutor into retreat. And, indeed, as Clarke received applause from the family members of those killed on 9/11, Thompson ended his ferocious attack-rat questioning by suddenly departing the hearing room in an embarrassing defeat.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) appropriately noted that Thompson was just doing the bidding of “his client at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”
But if you look at some of “Big Jim’s” recent activities, as reported in the media, you might think he has some of his own credibility problems.
First of all, Thompson headed the auditing committee of the embattled Hollinger Corporation at a time that pro-Bush media baron Conrad Black and another company executive have been charged with taking shareholders to the cleaners.
Thompson’s committee had to approve the deals first, but “Big Jim” claims he wasn’t aware of what was going on. Let’s just say, at this point, there were a lot of serious alleged financial shenanigans that passed through Thompson’s committee like feed through a pig.
But “Big Jim” is standing by his handiwork. He has his integrity to protect. After all, he doesn’t want to embarrass himself in front of fellow Hollinger board members, such as Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle.
Oh, by the way, did we mention that the Hollinger newspapers are notoriously Bush Cartel propaganda shills, including the London Sunday Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times?
No one is accusing Thompson of personally profiting from the Hollinger mess, just of closing his eyes to the worst kind of crony capitalism.
It’s just like “Big Jim’s” law firm that stands to profit from fundraising Thompson promises to do. You see, Thompson is committed to helping raise the money necessary to pay the attorney fees for defending another former Illinois Republican Governor, George Ryan, from felony charges. The criminal indictments against Ryan were brought by the current U.S. Attorney for the Northern District in Illinois (ironically, the position Thompson used to launch his career as Illinois Governor.)
But here’s the hypocrisy rub so to speak. The firm defending George Ryan is, well, Thompson’s law firm. Thompson told the Chicago Sun-Times that it “will take about $2 million to pay for the defense team led by Dan Webb, the top defense lawyer at Winston & Strawn.” In short, as a supposed act of political charity, “Big Jim” will help raise a couple of million bucks to pay his own law firm fees necessary to defend a disgraced Illinois Republican Governor.
No wonder Thompson stalked out of the 9/11 Commission hearing. No matter how big you are, when you’re just a run-of-the-mill GOP hypocrite hired gun, it must hurt to be slapped in the face with the honesty of Richard Clarke.
Until next week, just remember our motto at BuzzFlash.com: So many Republican hypocrites, so little time.
Catch up with you soon.
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Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois
497 U.S. 72 (1990)
Docket Number: 88-1872
Argued: January 16, 1990
Decided: June 21, 1990
Subject: First Amendment: Miscellaneous
Facts of the Case
In November 1980, Governor James Thompson of Illinois issued an order that prohibited state officials from hiring new employees, promoting state employees, or recalling state employees after layoffs without the approval of theGovernor’s Office of Personnel. The Office of Personnel based hiring and promotion decisions on factors such as the applicant’s contributions to the Republican Party, the applicant’s record of service to the Republican Party, and the support of local Party officials. In the jointly decided case of Frech v. Rutan, Cynthia B. Rutan and a number of other potential and current state employees challenged the patronage system, alleging that the Governor was violating their First Amendment rights by practicing unfair political patronage and party-based discrimination.
Did Governor Thompson’s practices in Illinois infringe upon the First Amendment rights of potential and current state employees?
In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that Governor Thompson’s practices amounted to an unconstitutional patronage system. The Court found that employees would feel “a significant obligation to support political positions held by their superiors” in lieu of their true beliefs in order to progress up the career ladder. The Court thus held that “promotions, transfers, and recalls after layoffs based on political affiliations or support” were impermissible infringements on the right to free expression of public employees. The Court noted that while the First Amendment was not “a tenure provision” protecting employees from “constructive discharge,” it nevertheless prevented the government from interfering with its employees’ freedom “to believe and associate.”
February 14, 2001
Goldman Upgrades Chevron, Texaco, Cuts ExxonMobil Rating
By TSC Staff
Goldman Sachs upgraded oil majors Chevron (CHV:NYSE – news) and Texaco (TX:NYSE – news) and auto parts supplier Lear (LEA:NYSE – news), adding them to its U.S. recommended for purchase list.
The firm previously had all three companies at market outperformer ratings.
Meanwhile, Goldman downgraded ExxonMobil (XOM:NYSE – news) to market outperformer and removed the petroleum company from the recommended for purchase list.
February 13, 2002
Texaco Alliance Trust Completes Sale of Former Texaco Refining and Marketing Interests to Shell Oil and Saudi Refining, Inc. for $3.86 Billion
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The Texaco Alliance Trust today completed the sale of its interests in refining, pipeline and retail fuel outlets to Shell Oil Company (Shell) and Saudi Refining, Inc. (SRI) for $3.86 billion, consisting of $2.26 billion in cash (including about $160 million in dividends) and the assumption of approximately $1.6 billion of the Trust’s share of debt and other liabilities of the ventures….
Robert A. Falise, Chairman and Divestiture Trustee, said, “We were pleased to have been able to complete our negotiations and structure the definitive sale agreements in just two months. And we are gratified that the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorneys General of 12 States also have approved the transaction in a timely manner so that this transaction could be consummated and all parties could move forward.”
Texaco’s downstream business interests were transferred to the Trust on October 9, 2001, immediately before the merger of Chevron Corporation and Texaco, as a condition to completion of that merger imposed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and an agreement with the Attorneys General of 12 states. Mr. Falise was given full discretion to dispose of the businesses within an eight-month period following the ChevronTexaco merger.
Just before the merger of Chevron and Texaco, Shell and SRI had reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Texaco outlining the basic terms of the sale.
The Trust has been advised by Goldman, Sachs & Co.
# # #
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Last Update August 4, 2006, by The Catbird