Greenpeace sues Sasol
13 December 2010 | Lindo Xulu
Greenpeace is suing Sasol North America together with several other corporate entities for allegedly trespassing, conducting unlawful surveillance and stealing confidential information related to Greenpeace's work in the Lake Charles region of Louisiana.
Greenpeace US senior researcher Charlie Cray told Moneyweb the civil case could be “… the biggest case of its kind here in the US for some time … we want to drag this history out into the light of day, we know similar things are most likely occurring, if not against Greenpeace [then] against other citizens and activists. We believe there needs to be a pushback against it, so we think this will be a litmus test for doing so”.
Although the amount of damages had not been decided, Cray says “it would be safe to say that [it would be in the millions] .... It [damages] would be determined by a jury”.
According to papers filed in the federal district court in Washington DC on November 29 by Greenpeace, between the period of 1998 and 2000, Dow Chemical, Condea Vista (now Sasol), among others, “conspired to and [eventually] did survey, infiltrate and steal confidential information from Greenpeace with the intention of pre-empting, blunting or thwarting its environmental campaigns”.
In 2008 Mother Jones, a US-based non-profit investigative magazine, reported that private security company Becket Brown International (BBI) organised and managed by former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers spied on Greenpeace, rummaging through dustbins for documents, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists and infiltrating confidential meetings.
Cray said “the company [BBI] fell apart and the former outside investor was left holding the bag, he tried to get different people interested and finally went to media, which is how this got exposed, and we launched an investigation, obtained numerous documents from this individual and analysed the documents and put them together in a fashion that we felt was strong enough evidence for the lawsuit.”
“The charges in the lawsuit include things related to trespass on the Greenpeace property, infiltrating the offices, stealing documents, including media plans, campaign plans, lists of supporters, a whole range of things – it was quite shocking to find all these documents in their files when the former owner opened up to us”.
Why Greenpeace was allegedly spied on
In the late 1990s Greenpeace was working with environmental groups in an area dubbed “Cancer Alley” due to the high level of toxins found there. During this period that Greenpeace was involved in campaigns across the US to expose environmental hazards. Some of those campaigns targeted the practices or products of Condea Vista (now Sasol North America), which including its vinyl chloride production which emitted toxic chemicals into the Lake Charles region.
In 1997 Condea Vista (now Sasol) paid $7 million in punitive damages following one of the largest chemical spills in US history. Condea Vista was found guilty of “wanton and reckless disregard of public safety” by a Lousiana jury following leaks of the PVC intermediate ethylene dichloride. The leaks were in a pipeline carrying ethylene dichloride to Condea Vista’s manufacturing plant at Lake Charles, Louisiana, from the nearby dock owned by oil refiner Conoco. Two contractors who worked on the Conoco site close to the pipeline sued Condea Vista after a leak was found in the pipe in March 1994.
Cray says “… the private investigative firm started spying on Greenpeace as a result of the Condea Vista – now Sasol North America – facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is a heavily industrialised community that Greenpreace organisers had been working in and working with people directly affected by dioxins and other pollutants from the plant … They then targeted Greenpeace national headquarters in Washington DC and over a period of two years, using sub-contractors … they essentially stole documents out of Greenpeace’s trash and, we believe, from inside Greenpeace’s offices.”
According to BBI e-mails, both in the possession of Mother Jones and in the court filings, BBI “retained Mary Lou Sapone, a self-described “research consultant”. Sapone’s operative in Louisiana relayed to her information on what the local environmental groups were planning and identified the scientists aiding them. She passed the intelligence to BBI. In an August 20 1998 “client briefing”, BBI boasted that “our operative is being nominated to the citizen action panels for local industries” and it asked which local industry Condea Vista, the chemical manufacturing firm, would prefer the operative to focus on”.
Despite some shareholder oppositionIn March 2001 Pieter Cox, then Sasol’s CEO, now deputy chairman, acquired Condea Vista from German-based RWE DEA for $1,59 billion. On the lawsuit, Sasol said: “Sasol believes it has a claim for indemnification against the previous owner of Sasol North America (at that time called Condea Vista Company) regarding this matter and is assessing its legal options”.
When told about Sasol's response Cray said: "Well that's the first I've heard of it and I'm not sure what that means. Certainly that's not surprising that that would be their position. That will obviously be one of the positions that would have to be worked out through the courts".
Sasol has given no indication on when it planned to file its responding papers. – email@example.com
YOU MAY ALSO BE INTERESTED IN
looklocal Joburg South
looklocal Pretoria East
looklocal North East Joburg
looklocal Pretoria Moot
looklocal Randfontein Westonaria