BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Two Chevron subsidiaries on Friday appealed a freeze on up to $19 billion worth of the company's assets in Argentina, part of an environmental lawsuit by Ecuadorean villagers that has spanned two decades and several countries.
The subsidiaries, Chevron Argentina and Ing. Norberto Priu, argued that they are not directly owned by Chevron Corp
"Chevron Corp, the sole judgment debtor, has no assets in Argentina. All operations in Argentina are conducted by subsidiaries that have nothing to do with the fraudulent judgment in Ecuador," Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said via email.
An Ecuadorean court last year ordered Chevron to pay $19 billion for the contamination of watersheds over nearly 30 years that the plaintiffs say sickened indigenous tribespeople and farmers in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
Chevron has refused to make any payments and accuses Ecuadorean courts of fraud. Because the company has few assets in the Andean nation, the plaintiffs are seeking enforcement of the ruling in other countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Canada.
An Argentine judge ordered the asset embargo on Wednesday.
The claimants' legal team estimates that Chevron's assets in Argentina are worth around $2 billion and that they could obtain some $600 million a year if the embargo were enforced. Chevron is Argentina's fourth-largest oil producer.
The two Chevron subsidiaries filed a motion to revoke the court's embargo order, arguing "it is improper on the basis of the plaintiffs' documented fraud, jurisdiction, and misapplication of law," Robertson said.
Karen Hinton, U.S. spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans, said the asset freeze must remain in place until the Argentine court decides whether it can enforce the Ecuadorean judgment.
"We expect that Chevron's attempt to undo the freeze order in Argentina will fail," she said.
(Reporting by Guido Nejamkis and Alejandro Lifschitz; Additional reporting by Eduardo Garcia in Quito; Writing by Hilary Burke; Editing by David Gregorio)