By Eduardo Garcia
QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean plaintiffs have filed a second lawsuit outside the Andean country, this time in Brazil, in a bid to enforce an $18 billion court ruling against U.S. oil company Chevron for polluting the Amazon, their lawyers said on Wednesday.
The 2011 judgment against Chevron is one of the biggest rulings ever for environmental damage. The legal case has spanned nearly two decades and is being watched closely by multinationals accused of pollution elsewhere in the world.
Issued by an Ecuadorean court in Lago Agrio, the jungle region at the heart of the dispute, the original ruling was upheld by an appeals court in January - but Chevron has appealed to Ecuador's Supreme Court.
Since Chevron no longer has assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs are trying to get the ruling enforced outside the OPEC-member country. Last month they filed a legal lawsuit against the oil company in Canada.
"(It) is the second filing to force the company to pay for the clean-up of a disaster that decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer and other oil-related diseases," the plaintiffs said in a statement.
The new lawsuit, filed in the Superior Tribunal of Justice in Brazil's capital of Brasilia, targets Chevron operations in the South American country, the statement said.
However, Brazilian courts will not review the case just yet, said Brazilian litigator Sergio Bermudes, who represents the plaintiffs.
"The Superior Tribunal of Justice will only analyze whether the Ecuador decision meets the requirements of Brazilian law for enforcement of foreign judgment," Bermudes said.
This latest legal challenge against Chevron in Brazil follows on from lawsuits filed in March seeking some $20 billion in damages and criminal charges against Chevron and drilling operator Transocean for a spill in Chevron's offshore Frade field northeast of Rio de Janeiro.
Both Chevron and Transocean have said they have done nothing wrong, that they are innocent of any crimes and will defend their employees against civil and criminal charges.
LONG LEGAL SAGA
The plaintiffs in Ecuador accused Texaco, which was later taken over by Chevron, of causing illnesses among indigenous people by dumping drilling waste in unlined pits in the 1970s and 1980s.
Chevron denies the accusations. It says Texaco did not pollute the jungle and that it properly cleaned up all the pits for which it was responsible.
"The Ecuador judgment is a product of bribery, fraud, and it is illegitimate. The company does not believe that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law," Chevron said in a statement on Wednesday.
The case has become a cause célèbre for environmental activists who cast the decision in favor of the plaintiffs as a victory of David versus Goliath proportions.
Filled with intrigue, accusations of corruption, bribery and dirty tricks, the complicated case is now being fought on multiple fronts including in Ecuador's Supreme Court, a New York court handling a racketeering lawsuit filed by the company, and an international arbitration tribunal.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)