Environmental activists accuse Chevron of polluting the Amazon jungle in Ecuador. Chevron counter-accuses lawyers representing rain forest residents of fabricating evidence and other forms of fraud.
Cue Sharon Stone.
It's the latest bizarre twist in an epic, 22-year environmental brawl. Stone, the star of such films as Basic Instinct, has been accused in a federal lawsuit in New York of failing to show up for paid anti-Chevron appearances in Ecuador. The actress backed out of gigs scheduled for April 2014, in which she was to be the latest in a parade of celebrities who've condemned the company, according to MCSquared, a U.S. public relations firm that's suing the actress and her talent agency for $352,000. MCSquared alleges that the actress didn't return a $275,000 fee paid to her via American Program Bureau, a speakers bureau in Boston. The firm said it also spent $77,420.09 "to accommodate Stone's diva-like requests, including first-class airfare tickets and luxury hotel suites for herself and her three companions," along with hair and makeup services and personal guides.
Beyond the extreme weirdness factor—Sharon Stone paid to protest oil pollution in the Amazon?—the suit is notable because time and again, the campaign to tar Chevron has allegedly succumbed to fraud, manipulation, and theater in the service of extracting billions of dollars from the oil company.
In March 2014, a federal judge in New York ruled that an American plaintiffs' lawyer, Steven Donziger, used doctored evidence, coercion, and bribery to win a multibillion-dollar Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron three years earlier. Donziger denies that he turned his suit into an extortion racket and has appealed the ruling. For now, though, it's unclear whether he'll ever be able to enforce the enormous Ecuadorian verdict on behalf of thousands of poor residents of the rain forest.
Reinforcing the impression that the campaign against Chevron has relied on trickery and stunts, protesters at the company's annual shareholder meeting last May turned out to be fake demonstrators, each paid $85 to wave signs and shout slogans. A Los Angeles-based film production company admitted to recruiting the faux picketers, although it remains unclear who the company worked for. (Donziger's spokeswoman said that neither he nor his legal team were involved in the stunt.)
MCSquared, which is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., helped promote the phony May 2014 demonstration online. The public relations firm has said in U.S. regulatory filings that it was paid $6.4 million by the government of Ecuador to mount an international PR assault against Chevron in 2013 and 2014. The administration of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has loudly demanded that Chevron pay billions to remedy contaminated jungle areas east of the Andes mountain range. Chevron insists that Ecuador and its national oil company bear responsibility for any remaining pollution.
In its February 24 lawsuit, MCSquared said that it paid various celebrities, including Stone, to travel to Ecuador and criticize the company. Just before she was scheduled to appear in April 2014, however, Stone backed out because of health problems, the suit said. According to the Washington Free Beacon, other celebrities paid by MCSquared for appearances in Ecuador include Mia Farrow and Danny Glover. Last September, Farrow took to Twitter, in a post she's since deleted, to confirm that she'd been paid a "speaking fee" for her visit to Ecuador. She added: "I wouldn't have gone if I didn't believe in the cause."
American Program Bureau, which the suit said collected Stone's appearance fee, did not respond to a request for comment.
The rain forest in Ecuador indisputably shows scars from irresponsible oil production, and who shares a duty to clean it up is a serious question. Litigation that, according to a U.S. federal court, morphed into a shakedown will not provide a solution to this sad situation. Neither will counterfeit protests or the importation of movie stars and their hangers-on. What these tactics do provide is ample basis for Chevron to deflect blame.
And that's what Chevron did. "The fact that the Republic of Ecuador's PR firm is suing Sharon Stone for not participating in a government-sponsored anti-Chevron stunt is further evidence that this case is nothing but a fraud," company spokesman Morgan Crinklaw said in an e-mail. "From paid celebrities to bribed court officials to the ghostwritten judgment, the case against Chevron in Ecuador is a well-funded and manufactured extortion scheme."