U.S. Citizen Denied Re-entry to Egypt

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt– On September 2, American citizen Travis Randall of Denver, Colorado was denied entry to Egypt after being told he was “on a list.” Randall was not given any reason for being denied entry, or for being detained, and he plans on remaining in London until he finds out the particular reason why Egypt denied his re-entry.

Randall, age 27, had been living and working in Cairo for the last two and a half years, working as an environmental consultant and a free lance writer. He was returning from a trip when he was detained for twelve hours in a holding cell, and forced to purchase a ticket to London, England, as he could not return to Egypt.

The only time that Randall has ever had any problems with the Egyptian authority, was after a small protest of the Egyptian and Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip in February. After the protest, Randall was briefly detained.  The officials at the airport would not give Randall any reasons for his detention beyond Randall’s name being on a list. Randall’s laptop and cell phone were taken from him during his detention, and returned to him only upon is departure.

Egyptian police have detained hundreds of members of the Muslim brotherhood, and some Egyptian Bloggers because of their protests and writings against the blockade of the Gaza strip. One airport security officer who spoke anonymously theorized that Randall must be on the list for his own “activism” over Egyptian involvement in the blockade of the Gaza strip.

Randall does not consider himself an activist or a blogger, as his last post before his detention was from 2007. He has not participated in many protests, and does not want to be labeled an activist, as he does not believe that he fits the title.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) commented on Randall’s detainment, stating that “[even] assuming that the authorities have the right to stop the blogger from entering Egypt even though he has not been accused of anything, they have absolutely no right to seize his laptop and prevent him from making phone calls. This is an intolerable abuse.”

For more information, please see:

BikyaMasr – Egyptian National Press Lies Over Travis Randall’s Deportation – 6 September 2009

LA Times – EGYPT: Authorities Detain and Deport American Blogger – 6 September 2009

AP- US Citizen Deported from Egypt – 4 September 2009

International Freedom of Expression Exchange – American Blogger detained at Cairo Airport, Barred from Entering Egypt – 3 September 2009

U.S. Citizen Denied Re-entry to Egypt

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt– On September 2, American citizen Travis Randall of Denver, Colorado was denied entry to Egypt after being told he was “on a list.” Randall was not given any reason for being denied entry, or for being detained, and he plans on remaining in London until he finds out the particular reason why Egypt denied his re-entry.

Randall, age 27, had been living and working in Cairo for the last two and a half years, working as an environmental consultant and a free lance writer. He was returning from a trip when he was detained for twelve hours in a holding cell, and forced to purchase a ticket to London, England, as he could not return to Egypt.

The only time that Randall has ever had any problems with the Egyptian authority, was after a small protest of the Egyptian and Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip in February. After the protest, Randall was briefly detained.  The officials at the airport would not give Randall any reasons for his detention beyond Randall’s name being on a list. Randall’s laptop and cell phone were taken from him during his detention, and returned to him only upon is departure.

Egyptian police have detained hundreds of members of the Muslim brotherhood, and some Egyptian Bloggers because of their protests and writings against the blockade of the Gaza strip. One airport security officer who spoke anonymously theorized that Randall must be on the list for his own “activism” over Egyptian involvement in the blockade of the Gaza strip.

Randall does not consider himself an activist or a blogger, as his last post before his detention was from 2007. He has not participated in many protests, and does not want to be labeled an activist, as he does not believe that he fits the title.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) commented on Randall’s detainment, stating that “[even] assuming that the authorities have the right to stop the blogger from entering Egypt even though he has not been accused of anything, they have absolutely no right to seize his laptop and prevent him from making phone calls. This is an intolerable abuse.”

For more information, please see:

BikyaMasr – Egyptian National Press Lies Over Travis Randall’s Deportation – 6 September 2009

LA Times – EGYPT: Authorities Detain and Deport American Blogger – 6 September 2009

AP- US Citizen Deported from Egypt – 4 September 2009

International Freedom of Expression Exchange – American Blogger detained at Cairo Airport, Barred from Entering Egypt – 3 September 2009

Hundreds of Thousands Displaced By West African Flood

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – After three months of rain West Africa has been devastated by flooding that displaced 600,000.  The current season has been unusually rainy and the rain is expected to last through the end of the month.

People from Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal, and Niger have all been affected by the floods.  According to meteorologists, nearly one quarter of Burkina Faso’s yearly rainfall fell in a twelve-hour span.

According to the latest report from the United Nations, more than 150 people have been killed.  Many of those lives were claimed in Sierra Leone.

Half of the capital city of Ouagadougou has been affected including the part that housed the university hospital.  More than 150,000 from Burkina Faso are homeless, living in community centers and schools so overcrowded that some sleep outside.  These men spend the night exposed to malarial mosquitoes that breed in the standing water.

“The [university] hospital was one of the main hospitals in Ouagadougou where thousands of people were treated each day,” said West Africa spokesman for the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Yvon Edoumou.  “So clearly that is a major concern for us.  If you think in terms of just basic health services or even more acute health conditions, there is a fear that people who were there at the time of the flooding ate not getting the treatment that they should be.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) began feeding the displaced on Tuesday, feeding tens of thousands.  The goal is to feed 177,500 people, mainly from Ouagadougou.  According to the WFP this is the worst flooding in Burkina Faso in 90 years.

“It is always the poor and vulnerable who suffer the most from floods like these as their few remaining assets are swept away, leaving them hungry and destitute,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

OCHA issued a statement calling the situation “very worrying.”

This is, however, a mixed blessing.  The countries that are dependent on agriculture will have more plentiful harvests because of the wet season.

For more information, please see:

AP – UN Distributes Food to West Africa Flood Victims – 08 September 2009

CNN – West Africa Flooding Affects 600,000, U.N. Reports – 08 September 2009

Reuters – Catholic Relief Services to Assist Flood Victims in Burkina Faso – 08 September 2009

VOA – Flooding Displaces Hundreds of Thousands in West Africa – 08 September 2009

IRIN – Floods Shut Down Hospital, HIV Reference Lab – 07 September 2009

Sudanese Woman Takes a Stand Against Interpretation of Islamic Law

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudanese woman was arrested, found guilty of indecency, fined, and sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing trousers while dining at a cafe with friends.

Lubna Hussein, a widow with no children is a career journalist.  She was arrested along with 12 other women for breaking Islamic decency regulations and was ordered to pay a fine of Sudanese 500 pounds ($209) or face a month in jail.  This case has attracted world wide attention.

Hussein has refused to pay the fine.  She and many women activists say the Islamic decency regulations are vague and give individual police officers undue discretion to determine what is acceptable clothing for women.  Hussein has made an effort to publicize her case by posing in loose trousers for photos and calling for media support.

By printing up invitation cards for her initial court date in July and sending out e-mail messages asking people to witness her whipping, if it came to that, she was making it known that the world would see how Sudan treated women.

These measures were not overlooked.  On the date of her trial, hundreds of Sudanese women, many wearing pants, gathered in front of the court house protesting the law was unfair.  A few of the other women arrested with Hussein have pleaded guilty and were lashed as a result.  These floggings have been carried out in the past with plastic whips that leave permanent scars.

“The flogging, yes, it causes pain,” says Hussein. “But more important, it is an insult.  This is why I want to change the law.”

Article 152 of Sudan’s penal code states that up to 40 lashes and a fine should be given to anyone “who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing.”  The big question?  What is considered indecent clothing?

Another major factor at play is that northern Sudanese, who are mostly Muslim, are supposed to obey Islamic law, while southern Sudanese, who are mostly Christian, are not.  Hussein argues that Article 152 is intentionally vague, in part to punish women.

“I am Muslim; I understand Muslim law, but I ask what passage in the Koran says women can’t wear pants…” questions Hussein.

Rabie A. Atti, a Sudanese government spokesperson, insists that Hussein must have done something else to upset the authorities, besides wearing pants.  He says the act is only intended to protect people against harm from another person’s indecent behavior.  Atti also claims that many women in offices and wedding ceremonies wear trousers with no problems in Sudan, suggesting that Hussein must have been causing some additional harm in order to be arrested.

Hussein responded that she did not do anything else in order to violate the law, and that there were many who can support this.

“It is well known that Sudanese women are pioneers in the history of woman’s rights in this region, and that we won our rights a long time ago because of our awareness, open mind, good culture and struggle,” said Hussein.

For more information, please see:

AP – Trouser-wearing Woman Spared Flogging in Sudan – 7 September 2009

BBC – Sudanese “Trousers” Woman Fined – 7 September 2009

Reuters – Sudanese Woman Fined for Wearing Trousers – 7 September 2009

The New York Times – Sudan Court to Define Indecent Dress for Women – 7 September 2009

Civilians Killed in Mogadishu During Ramadan Break Fast

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MOGADISHU, Somalia – A family of at least five were killed in Mogadishu when a mortar shell hit their house on Saturday.

Shortly after Ali Ahmed Jama, Somalia’s foreign minister, said the transitional government was negotiating with rebel fighters, a mortar shell hit the home of a family as they gathered for their meal at the end of the day’s Ramadan fast.

Sources say that fierce fighting exploded in the city on Friday night and Saturday morning, and witnesses claim that over 10 people have been killed, including a Somalia-American who joined the insurgents.

“We lost a martyr who was from Minnesota in the overnight raid,” said a Shabab foot solder.  Among the dead was a Somali-American identified as Mohamed Hassan, a 21 year-old from Minnesota.

“Soon after breaking fast we heard strange noises of weapons and we ran into a concrete building nearby,” said Fatima Elmi, a Mogadishu resident.

The militants causing the conflict in Somalia are the Hizbul Islam and the Shabab.  These groups are trying to overthrow Somalia’s moderate Islamic government and replace it with a regime that will impose strict Islamic Sharia law.

After Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of the Hizbul Islam returned from exile in May, he built the group into a powerful force that, together with the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, has taken control of many parts of southern Somalia, including the capital of Mogadishu.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Six Civilians killed in Mogadishu Clashes – 5 September 2009

BBC – Five Die in Somalia Mortar Attack – 6 September 2009

The New York Times – Several Dead in Somali Clashes, Possibly Including U.S. Jihadist – 5 September 2009

VOA – Somali Militant Leader Says Fighting Will Continue Despite Civilian Casualties – 5 September 2009

Urumqi Syringe Protesters May Face Death

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China– Five people were killed and 14 were injured in the latest unrest in China’s western city of Urumqi.  25 people are reportedly being held over the incident where demonstrators clashed with the police when the Han Chinese took the streets of Urumqi demanding better police protection from ethnic Uyghurs.

Syringe attack Chinese troops patrolling streets of Urumqi (Source: AFP)

Uyghurs, who are being blamed for the recent attacks, are Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in China who consider Xinjiang their homeland.  Ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and the Han Chinese have resulted in violent riots since July.

A joint statement released by Urumqi’s court, prosecutor’s office and the police department noted that the syringe attackers who triggered the latest riots will face harsh punishment.  The Chinese officials said attackers who stabbed people with needles containing harmful substances may be jailed for three or more years.  The authorities also added that the attacker(s), if convicted, may receive the death penalty since China’s penal code allows for death penalty for crimes that involve dangerous substances used to harm others.

China’s Xinhua News Agency stated that more than 500 victims of hypodermic needle attacks are being treated in Urumqi hospitals, and the victims include various ethnic groups, including the Han, Uygurand and Kazakstan.

The syringe attacks began in early August, and one resident, wishing to remain anonymous said, “People are angry that the government is not doing much against the Uyghurs’ needle stabbing.”

Another resident said that the government had sent out text messages to citizens warning them of syringes containing unknown diseases.  This is a matter of grave concern since the Xinjiang region has the highest HIV infection rate in China.  In addition, Johns Hopkins University reported that Xinjiang serves as a convenient drug-trafficking route because the region is located between opium growing regions of Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.

Exiled Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer is asking the “Chinese officials to guarantee the security of all people living in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), including Uyghurs and Han Chinese.”  People of Urumqi are stocking up on groceries in fear of escalated violence.  Furthermore, there is no traffic around the city and schools have been closed.

For more information, please see:

BBC – China warning to syringe stabbers – 6 September 2009

CNN – Five killed as police face syringe protesters in Chinese city – 4 September 2009

Xinhua – Urumqi syringe attackers may face death penalty – 6 September 2009

Chautauqua Declaration

05 September 2009

Chautauqua Declaration

The issuance of the Chautauqua Declaration marked the culmination of the proceedings of the 3rd Annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs held on August 31 – September 1, 2009. The subject was titled: “Honoring Women in International Criminal Law: From Nuremberg to the ICC (International Criminal Court)”. For further information on the Chautauqua Declaration, please visit www.roberthjackson.org.

Adjournment Until October for 26 Accused of Involvement with ‘Hezbollah Cell’

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt– The trial for twenty-six Egyptians accused of forming a terrorist cell in Egypt related to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah has been adjourned until October. According to Nile TV, the delay will grant the defendants’ lawyers more time to review the cases.

The twenty-six men include nineteen Egyptians, two Lebanese, and five people from Palestinian territories. Some of the men appeared in court on August 23 to dispute claims that the defendants were smuggling weapons between Sinai and Gaza and plotting attacks against Israeli tourists in Egypt. 

Of the twenty-six accused, only twenty-two appeared in court. The remaining four are being tried in absentia, while they are still on the run. One man who appeared in court said that he had been tortured. He also added that he had been referred for medical check after the alleged torture.

The lawyer of the twenty-two men, Montaser al Zaiat has said that the charges are “absolutely not true,” and clarified that there was “never any question in this case of a plot for the assassination of figures in Egypt.”

Family members were not permitted to attend the hearing, many relatives braced high heat standing outside the courtroom to see their loved ones. The families are upset because they haven’t seen their loved-ones in months. One prisoner was arrested in December, and his family does not know the details of the charges that precipitated his arrest. The arrests of members of the alleged Hezbollah cell began in 2008.

Hezbollah is a Shiite backed group, which is at odds with Sunni dominated Egypt. Hezbollah believes that the charges are politically motivated, and based upon Egypt’s support for the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

For more information, please see:

AFP – ‘Hezbollah’ Accused Allege Torture in Egypt Jail’ – 23 August 2009

BBC – Egypt ‘Hezbollah Cell’ on Trial – 23 August 2009

LA Times – Egypt: How Guilty are Those in ‘Hezbollah Cell’ – 23 August 2009

Xinhua – Egyptian Court Postpones Trial of Hezbollah Cell to October 24 – 23 August 2009

Bangladesh Workers Riot Over Pay Kills at Least Two

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

DHAKA, Bangladesh- At least 2 people have been killed and over 100 injured in clashes between textile workers and police in Bangladesh, police have said.  The authorities delayed the report almost 12 hours after the media first reported the deaths.

The violence erupted as workers protested over unpaid salaries in the outskirts of Dhaka on Saturday.  “Law-enforcers had to fire rubber bullets from shot guns to disperse the workers who hurled stones and bricks at our officers,” said police inspector Shafiqul Alam.  Workers arriving to work at Nippon Garments factory found a notice stating the factory was closing for a month, citing losses and depressed orders.  

The workers then took to the streets to protest, with as many as 15,000 people involved in the protests, police said.  Maleka Begum, a police official, said in addition to at least 100 workers, a number of police officers were injured in the chaos. 

Protesters were demanding three months of back pay, Begum said, “The angry workers became unruly and violent this morning. They threw up barricades on the roads and suddenly attacked police.”  The workers were told they would be paid on Saturday, but when they arrived found the notice announcing the “closure due to economic depression” from Oct 31 to Nov. 29

“We were owed many arrears. As the workers wanted break the lock to enter the factory, police obstructed us,” said Majeda Begum, a factory worker.

Garment factories in the country of Bangladesh have been hit hard by the global economic crisis.  Unions said factories have cut wages to compete for orders with other apparel-producers, such as Vietnam, China and India.  Over forty percent of Bangladesh’s industrials workforce is employed in the garment sector, and this whole has been affected by the economic downturn.

Saturday’s clashes were the most severe since the global downturn began to affect Bangladeshi apparel factories, which accounted for 80 percent of the country’s $15.56 billion dollars worth of exports in the last year.  In June, 50,000 also workers protested wage cuts and unpaid salaries clashed with police and leaving many injured.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera. Net- Bangladesh Workers Riot over Pay– 31 October 2009

Associated Foreign Press- ‘Two Killed, 100 Hurt’ in Bangladeshi Workers Riot– 31 October 2009

BDNews24.Com- Tongi Violence Leave 2 Dead, 100 Injured – 1 November 2009

Amid Unrest, Gabon Election Result Finally Released

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LIBREVILLE, Gabon – Ali Ben Bongo, the eldest son of former President Omar Bongo, was declared the new President of Gabon, extending the family’s 41-year reign.

Ben Bongo was up for election against Andre Mba Obame and Pierre Mamboundou.  Bongo was considered the heavy favorite because of the wealth and power that his family accumulated during his father’s time in power.

Since a young age Bongo has been involved in politics.  His father brought him into the country’s government as the foreign minister and his most recent position was as the defense minister, controlling the country’s army.

This week was tense as they all awaited the results.  After the election each of the three candidates had declared himself the winner.  Although the election was held on Sunday it was not until today that the actual results were released and Bongo was declared the winner.  The length of time between the election and the results led many to believe that the vote was rigged.  Bongo won with 47% of the vote, a considerably smaller margin of victory than those his father declared.

“If this man was elected fairly, would this city be dead like this?  Where are the crowds in joy?” Frederic Zomo asked.

This is no more than a military coup d’etat.  They have trampled democracy.  These results are false,” said Patrick Pambo.

Adelie Mengue called it “an electoral hold-up, a masquerade.”

According to Mamboundou, “It’s not just a possibility of fraud.  It’s fraud pure and simple.  The Gabonese people do not want a dynasty.  Forty-two years of President Bongo is enough.  They want change.”

Activists in support of the opposition have been causing disturbances since the election, breaking into a prison and freeing hundreds of inmates from Port Gentil.  They also looted shops and attacked journalists.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Gabonese people to be calm and restraint and to avoid disturbances so that tensions do not escalate.

“The Secretary General urges all the presidential candidates and their supporters to resolve any electoral grievances through legal and institutional channels, and calls for any such complaints to be reviewed and adjudicated in a fair and transparent manner.  He calls on the Gabonese political leaders to refrain from any action which could jeopardize the peaceful conclusion of the electoral process.”

For more information, please see:

AP – Unrest as Dictator’s Son Declared Winner in Gabon – 03 September 2009

BBC – Bongo Wins Disputed Gabon Ballot – 03 September 2009

CJP – Gabonese Media Under Attack Since Election – 03 September 2009

Forbes – Protesters Dispersed, Gabon Election Result Blocked – 03 September 2009

NY Times – Son of Late Gabon Leader Declared Winner in Vote – 03 September 2009

Reuters – Unrest in Gabon as Bongo Poll Win Disputed – 03 September 2009

UN News Service – Secretary-General Urges Calm Amid Reports of Post-Election Clashes in Gabon – 03 September 2009

Adjournment Until October for 26 Accused of Involvement with ‘Hezbollah Cell’

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt– The trial for twenty-six Egyptians accused of forming a terrorist cell in Egypt related to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah has been adjourned until October. According to Nile TV, the delay will grant the defendants’ lawyers more time to review the cases.

The twenty-six men include nineteen Egyptians, two Lebanese, and five people from Palestinian territories. Some of the men appeared in court on August 23 to dispute claims that the defendants were smuggling weapons between Sinai and Gaza and plotting attacks against Israeli tourists in Egypt. 

Of the twenty-six accused, only twenty-two appeared in court. The remaining four are being tried in absentia, while they are still on the run. One man who appeared in court said that he had been tortured. He also added that he had been referred for medical check after the alleged torture.

The lawyer of the twenty-two men, Montaser al Zaiat has said that the charges are “absolutely not true,” and clarified that there was “never any question in this case of a plot for the assassination of figures in Egypt.”

Family members were not permitted to attend the hearing, many relatives braced high heat standing outside the courtroom to see their loved ones. The families are upset because they haven’t seen their loved-ones in months. One prisoner was arrested in December, and his family does not know the details of the charges that precipitated his arrest. The arrests of members of the alleged Hezbollah cell began in 2008.

Hezbollah is a Shiite backed group, which is at odds with Sunni dominated Egypt. Hezbollah believes that the charges are politically motivated, and based upon Egypt’s support for the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

For more information, please see:

AFP – ‘Hezbollah’ Accused Allege Torture in Egypt Jail’ – 23 August 2009

BBC – Egypt ‘Hezbollah Cell’ on Trial – 23 August 2009

LA Times – Egypt: How Guilty are Those in ‘Hezbollah Cell’ – 23 August 2009

Xinhua – Egyptian Court Postpones Trial of Hezbollah Cell to October 24 – 23 August 2009

International Outcry Over Sri Lanka Execution Video

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

UNITED NATIONS – A graphic video footage of a naked, blindfolded Tamil civilian sitting on dirt ground who is kicked and then shot in the back of his head by a Sri Lankan soldier aired on British television last week and has outraged the international community. 

The Tamils have been fighting for independence from Sri Lanka but were defeated this May.  The decades-long conflict killed at least 70,000 people, and the Sri Lankan government has been accused of extrajudicial killings in violation of international law in the past.  However, the government had prevented the international media from covering the conflict zone, but this video clip could be the most graphic evidence of Sri Lanka’s war crime allegations.

The High Commission of Sri Lanka claims the video is a fabrication and released a statement saying that they “categorically deny that the Sri Lankan armed forces engaged in atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamil community.”  Nonetheless, the UN wants an independent investigation to verify the authenticity of the video.

UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said, “These images are horrendous and, if authentic, would indicate a serious violation of international law.”  He added, “The government clearly has nothing to lose and everything to gain by inviting an independent international investigation…and say look, these are fabrications….”

Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, who holds the presidency of the UN Security Council during September, also expressed her concerns saying, “These reports are very disturbing….”  Rice said the allegation against Sri Lanka is not currently on the Security Council’s agenda, but this could change.

Sri Lanka has repeatedly denied that its military has committed war crimes or breached international human rights laws during the fighting.  Nevertheless, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN takes all human rights violation reports seriously and the recent execution video will not be an exception.
For more information, please see:

CNN – U.N. envoy seeks probe into ‘horrendous’ Sri Lanka video – 2 September 2009

Reuters – U.S. voices “grave concern” about Sri Lanka video – 2 September 2009

Telegraph – Sri Lanka accused of war crimes after ‘Tamil execution’ videos emerge – 25 August 2009

Scandal over Alleged Bribe Scheme that may Involve Presidency in Ecuador Lawsuit

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — Chevron announced that it obtained recordings of meetings in Ecuador this year that appear to reveal a bribery scheme connected to a $27 billion 16-year-old lawsuit the company has been battling over environmental damage at oil fields it operated in the Amazon forest in Ecuador.

The audio and video recordings reveal a $3 million bribe scheme implicating the judge presiding over the environmental lawsuit currently pending against Chevron, Juan Núñez, and individuals who identify themselves as representatives of the Ecuadorean government and its ruling party, including possibly Pierina Correa, the sister of Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa.

Judge Núñez appears in the video released by Chevron explaining that he plans to rule against the oil giant later in the year or in January at the latest for an award of $27 billion, “more or less.” In that part of the video, the Judge says he will only discuss the verdict, not “the other stuff,” which Chevron contends is a $3 million payoff request. The video later implies that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will benefit from the bribe amount.

Correa, a left-wing economist who rose from obscurity to become Ecuador’s strongest president in recent years, has sided with the plaintiffs in the case, prompting Chevron to lobby Washington to strip Ecuador of American trade preferences. But the Obama administration allowed the preferences to continue as a chance to improve ties with Correa.

The release of the recordings is sure to focus more scrutiny on Correa, who has come under pressure over his clashes with the media and accusations of corruption involving another family member, his brother Fabricio Correa, a prominent businessman.

In one of the recordings made in June, the political operative negotiating the bribe identifies himself as an official in Correa’s political party, and refers to $3 million in bribes to be split equally among the judge, the presidency and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In the same meeting, the operative explains how to approach the president’s sister about the bribe. “Tell Pierina clearly, ‘Madam Pierina, what we came to do beyond anything else is to participate, participate in the remediation. That’s why I want to make you part of this,’” he said.

The recordings, obtained by businessmen using spy watches and pens implanted with bugging devices, are not clear on whether any bribes discussed were actually paid or whether Judge Núñez was even aware of plans to try to bribe him. The tapes are also unclear as to whether the president’s sister was aware of the scheme or had participated in it. Nor is there confirmation that the political operative was in fact in contact with her.

Alexis Mera, a legal adviser to the president, dismissed the recordings as “approaching the level of defamatory libel,” and said Chevron’s was a “terrible legal strategy.”

This is not the first time Correa is plagued by accusations of alleged bribes. Earlier this year, the Colombian military seized a set of three laptops from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which were alleged to contain at least one video with evidence that the guerrilla group may have contributed money to Correa’s first election campaign in 2006.

President Correa has vehemently denied allegations that he received election funds from the Marxist FARC rebels. He has said evidence had been fabricated to destabilize his left-wing government.

For more information, please see:

San Francisco Chronicle – Chevron Ecuador Judge Nunez bribery scandal – implications – 31 August 2009

The New York Times – Chevron Offers Evidence of Bribery Scheme in Ecuador Lawsuit – 31 August 2009

Los Angeles Times – Chevron, Ecuador and a clash of cultures – 29 August 2009

The Wall Street Journal – Report: Chevron seeking probe of judge in Ecuador suit – 1 September 2009