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Brazil may move Chevron case to Rio court

The Americas Post - Brazilian federal prosecutor Eduardo Santos de Oliveira has an axe to grind with Chevron

A judge in Campos, Brazil, may transfer the criminal case filed against Chevron and drill-rig operator Transocean to Rio de Janeiro, a move that would eliminate a crusading prosecutor from that case.

Eduardo Santos de Oliveira, a federal prosecutor based in Campos, in Rio de Janeiro’s interior, said on Friday that a jurisdictional review is under way that could postpone criminal indictment of both firms and their personnel for weeks.

Oliveira filed criminal charges against Chevron, Transocean and 17 of their staff in Brazil this week for alleged crimes leading to a November offshore oil spill in Brazil’s Frade field, operated by Chevron.  He called for maximum prison sentences of 31 years against the firms’ executives.

Federal judge Claudio Girão Barreto will now decide whether the companies must post bonds in Campos or whether the case should be moved to Rio de Janeiro. Such judicial review typically takes about two weeks.

The review does not change the severity of the charges, but could remove the case from Oliveira’s jurisdiction and result in a different team of prosecutors.

The jurisdiction question is complicated by location of the alleged crimes in a deep-sea oil field beyond Brazil’s territorial waters but within its 200-nautical-mile “exclusive economic zone.”

Oliveira said the judge asked him to appear in court Monday with more details about the case.

“I think moving the case to Rio de Janeiro would be a mistake,” said Oliveira. “Chevron and Transocean want you to believe this happened on some foreign ship or platform in international waters. But the crime happened under the seabed, in physical Brazilian territory.”

Some Brazilian officials, such as Senator Jorge Viana of the government’s ruling party, have called Oliveira’s charges overly-aggressive. Viana warned this week that the case could damage Brazil’s oil industry.

A 20 billion reais ($11 billion) civil suit launched previously by Oliveira in Campos against Chevron and Transocean, its drilling contractor at Frade, has already been transferred to Rio de Janeiro’s capital. A judge determined in January that Campos was not the correct jurisdiction for the civil case, Brazil’s largest environmental lawsuit in history.

Chevron’s spill of 2,400 to 3,000 barrels of oil at the Frade field in November was caused by a pressure surge during drilling. Oliveira has accused Chevron’s operation of being reckless and unsafe. The companies deny the charges.