Occidental Petroleum settles Peru pollution case

Associated Press

Indigenous communities that sued Occidental Petroleum Corp. over contamination in Peru's northern Amazon have reached an out-of-court settlement in which the oil company will pay them an undisclosed sum.

The amount is confidential, under a settlement that was reached in 2013 in Los Angeles federal court but not announced until Thursday. The money is to fund community development projects.

The case was the first of its kind involving oil drilling in South America to advance in U.S. courts, said attorney Marco Simons of EarthRights International, which represented the plaintiffs.

Five Achuar communities, along with the environmental group Amazon Watch, sued Occidental in 2007, alleging the company spilled oil and dumped toxic byproducts in their territory over three decades ending in 2001, causing premature deaths, birth defects and other health problems. The company recently moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Houston.

The case was initially dismissed in 2008, with the lower-court judge ruling it should be heard in Peru instead. The plaintiffs successfully appealed, however, and the U.S. Supreme Court let the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal's decision stand.

An Achuar leader, Adolfina Garcia, told reporters Thursday that the group could not have received a fair trial in Peru.

"We don't have any faith in Peru. There is a lot of corruption," she said.

Occidental confirmed the settlement but did not comment further.

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