By Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. trial has been set for next fall in a Chevron Corp lawsuit that accuses Ecuadorean residents, their lawyers, and advisers of fraud in obtaining a $19 billion pollution award against the U.S. oil company.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said at a brief hearing on Thursday that the trial would begin on October 15, 2013.
The battle over the pollution case has lasted for nearly two decades and is being fought in courts inside and outside the Andean country.
It has escalated ever since plaintiffs from villages in the oil-rich Amazon won an $18.2 billion case in February 2011 against Chevron, the No. 2 U.S. oil company. An Ecuadorean court found that Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, contaminated the area from 1964 to 1992. Damages were increased to $19 billion in July.
Chevron says Texaco cleaned up all waste pits for which it was responsible before turning the sites over to state-owned oil company Petroecuador, which still operates in the area.
As part of its fight against the damages award, Chevron sued the Ecuadoreans and their long-time legal adviser, Steven Donziger, in 2011 in Manhattan federal court. Chevron accuses them of illegally pressuring the Ecuadorean legal system to render a judgment in their favor.
Donziger and the Ecuadoreans deny they acted improperly and argue that Chevron's claims were brought improperly. In May, Kaplan refused the defendants' request to toss out Chevron's fraud and racketeering conspiracy claims, brought under the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The case is Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-0691.
(Reporting By Basil Katz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)