Chevron Corp. sought to open an investigation Tuesday of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, claiming he pressured the oil company to settle environmental litigation in Ecuador in exchange for campaign contributions from supporters of the lawsuit's plaintiffs.
DiNapoli denied the charges in a statement, saying, "This is a baseless attempt by big oil to intimidate me." He added, "The allegations are without merit."
A Democrat from Great Neck Plaza, DiNapoli was appointed comptroller in 2007 and narrowly won election in 2010. His current term ends in 2014 and he is seeking re-election. Previously, he was the long-time chairman of the Environment Committee in the state Assembly.
Chevron said it filed a complaint before the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, seeking a probe of DiNapoli and current and past members of his staff.
In a statement, Chevron said the plaintiffs' supporters have contributed more than $60,000 to DiNapoli's campaign, as well as "other political benefits." The complaint alleges that Steven Donziger, the plaintiffs' U.S. legal adviser, and his associates wooed DiNapoli into applying pressure on Chevron through campaign donations and an offer to meet with the rock (musician) Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler.
The company said DiNapoli and Donziger and his associates engaged in "an apparent quid pro quo exchange." DiNapoli oversees the $150-billion state Common Retirement Fund. It holds more than $800 million of Chevron stock, the company said, citing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
A spokeswoman for DiNapoli, Jennifer Freeman, said the comptroller has never met Sting. "Having failed at derailing the lawsuit, [Chevron] now seeks to discredit anyone associated with it," a spokeswoman for Donziger, Karen Hinton, said in an email.
The specific actions Chevron objected to by DiNapoli include sponsoring shareholder resolutions "and making public statements against Chevron that were explicitly intended to pressure the company to settle" the lawsuit.
In a statement, DiNapoli said his call on Chevron to settle the Ecuador litigation "is about protecting shareholder value and fulfilling my fiduciary responsibility to the New York State Common Retirement Fund."
Chevron has been locked in an almost two-decade conflict with residents of Ecuador's Lago Agrio region over claims that Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001, contaminated the area from 1964 to 1992. The plaintiffs from the villages in the oil-rich Amazon won an $18.2-billion judgment from an Ecuadorean court against Chevron, which claims the judgment was fraudulent and unenforceable. Earlier this year, DiNapoli and 39 other investors called on Chevron to settle the legal battle. -- With James T. Madore