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US judge halts damages claim over pollution in Amazon

An American judge has extended his temporary ban on the collection of $18bn (£11.1bn) in damages from Chevron, saying the US oil giant would be irreparably harmed if it had to pay compensation – ordered by a court in Ecuador – for pollution in parts of the Amazon rainforest.

District Judge Lewis Kaplan said there was evidence that lawyers for 30,000 Ecuadorean plaintiffs would move swiftly to pursue multiple enforcement actions and asset seizures around the globe, including in areas where Chevron would not be immediately able to challenge the lawsuits. He said his decision was justified because without it Chevron would be at significant risk of "missing critical deliveries".

The ruling came after Chevron sued lawyers and others involved in the Ecuadorean litigation, saying they violated racketeering laws by manipulating an Ecuadorean judge, Nicolas Zambrano, into issuing an unfair judgment against the American company last month.

But Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans, said Judge Kaplan's failure to consider key evidence or schedule a hearing to learn more facts was a "trampling of due process" and "an inappropriate exercise of judicial power".

The legal wrangle has been going on for almost two decades. The US oil firm Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, stands accused of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into unlined pits and Amazon rivers between 1972 and 1992.

Campaigners allege that crops were damaged, farm animals died and local cancer rates increased. But Chevron claims that Texaco spent $40m cleaning up the area in the 1990s and signed an agreement with Ecuador in 1998 absolving it of any further responsibility.