An investigation conducted by Morocco World News reveals that Kerry Kennedy, a human rights advocate who defends Algeria’s Polisario Front and accuses Morocco of committing blatant human rights abuses in the Sahara, has been involved in another “human rights” advocacy campaign, based on a fraudulent scheme and ghost-written reports. A New York law firm hired Kennedy and ghost-wrote a fraudulent report to extort money from the oil company Chevron.

Kerry Kennedy’s resume is quite impressive. This accomplished lawyer and writer is more famous for her global human rights activism. Ms. Kennedy has championed human rights causes in Gaza, Haiti, China and Pakistan. For the past few years, she has spoken at length, and quite passionately, about alleged violations of the human rights in the Sahara. For the uninformed, Ms. Kennedy’s activism seems to be motivated by genuine concern for human rights. 

However, MWN recently obtained documents that lead to questions about Ms. Kennedy’s true motives for activism in the Sahara. Before using her celebrity and family legacy to advocate for the Sahrawis, Ms. Kennedy championed the cause of indigenous people in Ecuador.

In 2009, Ms. Kennedy started a media campaign against American oil giant Chevron, which had acquired Texaco in 2001, claiming that the company, in its quest for oil, wreaked havoc on the rainforest and caused environmental problems for indigenous people. She called the alleged harm “Chevron’s Chernobyl in the Amazon”.

In a November 4, 2009 article in The Huffington Post, Ms. Kennedy wrote, “I had heard about what has been called “Chevron’s Chernobyl in the Amazon” for years. But nothing could prepare me for the horror I witnessed this week in Ecuador”.

She said Texaco practices rape against women and inflicts other suffering on the indigenous population.

We heard terrifying stories of mistreatment by Texaco workers: women raped; shamans taken by helicopter to far mountain ranges to see if they could find their way back; Indians told that rubbing oil on their bald scalps would make their hair grow long and thick”. 

In an effort to gain public support, Ms. Kennedy framed the fight of the indigenous population in Ecuador as a matter of human rights and self-determination. As she stated, “this is an issue of human rights – clear violations of the indigenous Ecuadorians’ rights to life, security, and self-determination”.

In another Huffington Post op-ed on January 16, 2012, she said the supposed damage caused by Chevron “could be the worst environmental disaster on the planet.” She added, “cancer rates in the area have skyrocketed,” basing her claim on “extensive scientific evidence” from a three-judge appellate panel in Ecuador. Ms. Kennedy never substantiated her account with her own credible evidence or statistics.

While some may appreciate Ms. Kennedy’s global activism for human rights, it must be determined if her actions in Ecuador were motivated by genuine concern for the indigenous population or by a self-serving campaign for money.

According to documents obtained by MWN, Ms. Kennedy was at one time hired by the New York-based law firm that represented the Ecuadorians. Moreover, according to the same document, Kennedy’s advocacy was based on a report that proved to be fraudulent.

Multiple U.S. federal courts ruled that the Ecuadorean lawsuit “has been marked by fraud by the lawyers representing the Lago Agrio Plaintiffs.”

According to a video released by Chevron in May 2011, “Five U.S. federal courts have found evidence that the Ecuador trial has been compromised by plaintiff’s lawyer’s fraud.” The plaintiff’s lawyer is Steven Donziger, who allegedly hired Kerry Kennedy as his public relations consultant. Donziger said:

Because at the end of the day, this is all for the courts. This is a bunch of smoke, mirrors and (expletive.) It really is.” “The only language that I believe this judge will understand is one of pressure, intimidation and humiliation.” “This is Ecuador, OK? You can say whatever you want, and at the end of the day, there’s a thousand people around the courthouse and you’re going to get what you want.” “The business of getting press coverage is part of a legal strategy. The business of plaintiff’s law is to make (expletive) money.”

The Ecuadorian court had reportedly based its judgment on an expert’s official assessment that “was a fraud, ghostwritten by the LAP’s representatives, and then falsely passed off as the “independent” work of a court expert.”

Yet in spite of the evidence of fraud and corruption that marked the lawsuit, as detailed in federal court orders, Donziger proceeded ahead with pressuring Chevron into a settlement. To win this case and compel Chevron to abide by the ruling of the Ecuadorian court, Donziger turned to Ms. Kennedy because of her political connections and her relationship with New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli. At Kennedy’s behest, in May 2011, DiNapoli called on Chevron to settle the suit

In a September 26, 2011 article in the Huffington Post, Thomas DiNapoli called on Chevron to negotiate a “fair settlement that restores the company’s reputation.”

Shelley Aplern, a representative of Trillium Asset Management, sent an email, dated March 2010, to Donziger saying that time has come to leverage Kerry Kennedy’s closeness with DiNapoli to put more pressure on the oil company. Part of the email reads: 

Pat Doherty (…) has told me the statement looks good, but I haven’t yet heard that DiNapoli has signed off on it. Pat’s got politics to deal with it, but he says that DiNapoli himself seems to be very interested in being supportive. So this would be a great time to share the statement with Kerry Kennedy and have her call DiNapoli to urge him to approve it. She’s been a big supporter of him.” 

A year earlier, in an email dated August 2009, cited by the New York Post, Donziger wrote to his Ecuadorian clients informing them about Ms. Kennedy’s involvement. As he stated, “Kerry Kennedy…is coming to Ecuador and wants to help us along with Orin Kramer, major pension fund guy and Dem fundraiser in NY. This could give us a real boost…Will cost money, but not much.” 

According to a footnote in the letter sent by attorney Randy M. Mastro- which was obtained by MWN- representative of Chevron, to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Kennedy “has received at least $50,000 from lead attorney Steven Donziger in exchange of her advocacy on behalf of the Lago Agrio Plaintiffs.” The letter added, “there is also evidence to suggest she may have been promised an equity share of any settlement with Chevron.”

In her Huffington Post op-ed dated January 16, 2012, while admitting that she had received a “modest fee” for her human rights advocacy, Ms. Kennedy denied having any financial interest in the litigation. As she stated,

While I was paid a modest fee for the time I spent on the case, I have never and will never have a financial interest in the outcome of the litigation”. Ms. Kennedy stated, “Chevron’s notion that I was to receive a huge success fee if the rainforest communities recover the funds to which they are entitled is utter fiction. What is true is that Chevron’s management is using this lie in a desperate attempt to try to change the subject from its awful environmental disaster and devastating legal setbacks.”  

Referring to the case, Federal Magistrate Judge Denis Howell stated, “the court must believe that the concept of fraud is universal and that what has blatantly occurred in this matter would in fact be considered fraud by any court.”

In March 2011, a New York Federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of the Ecuadorian court’s ruling, on the grounds that “plaintiffs’ representative (attorney Donziger) misconduct is vivid and undeniable.”



Kennedy’s arguments based on ghost-written, fraudulent report

Our investigation revealed that the arguments used by Kerry Kennedy to slam Chevron and accuse it of causing irreversible environmental damage in Ecuador and committing human rights abuses, proved to be based on reports that were ghost-written by the plaintiffs’ representatives.

In a September 2011 letter terminating a funding agreement between Durford Group and the plaintiffs ‘representatives in the U.S., attorney Steve Donziger is quoted in the court deposition (Donziger Deposition Transcript 3089:3-8) as admitting that “plaintiffs had in fact ghost written the entire Cabrera report and had worked very hard to cover that up, that Startus had drafted the final report for Cabrera to submit to the Court, and that plaintiffs’ “did not want other to know.”

In March 2011, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found “ample evidence” that certain Lago Agrio plaintiffs lawyers, including lead U.S. attorney Steven Donziger, had engaged in a scheme to ghostwrite “all or much of” the Cabrera report.

Based on this finding, he issued an injunction barring the Lago Agrio lawyers from enforcing the judgment outside Ecuador.

Donziger and its acolytes’ scheme consisted of writing the report for Mr. Richard Stalin Cabrera Vega, who was described early in the process as an independent expert. To make the supposed expert’s findings compelling, Donziger is alleged to have hired the Denver-based consulting firm Startus to write the report for Cabrera. 

In a November 2012 affidavit posted on Chevron’s website, Judge Alberto Guerra Bastidas, said that at the first stage of the process, the plaintiff’s lawyers led by Steve Donziger, paid him thousands of dollars and offered $500,000 of any settlement proceeds to Ecuadorean Judge Nicolás Zambrano if he’d allow them to ghostwrite his ruling in the case

On April 11, 2013, Startus issued a statement stressing that the Cabrera report was “fatally tainted and not reliable.”

“Stratus believes that the damages assessment in the Cabrera Report and the entire Cabrera process were fatally tainted and are not reliable. Stratus disavows the Cabrera Report, has agreed to cooperate fully and to provide testimony about the Ecuador litigation,” read the statement.

The Kerry Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights’ director of communications did not respond by phone or email to requests for an interview.



Lago Agrio and the Sahara: same patterns, same tactics

This Ecuador case leads one to think more critically about Ms. Kennedy’s involvement, for more than four years, in defending the human rights of the population living in the Sahara. Since she championed this latest cause, it turns out that she is using the same tactics as those used in the Ecuadorean case.

She has accused Morocco of human rights violations in the Sahara while using superlatives to exaggerate the plight of the Sahrawis. To support her claims, she makes videos and takes part in conferences where she claims that Morocco rapes Sahrawi women and inflicts the worst suffering upon them. As with the Chevron case, she wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post where she lashed out at Morocco and slams its human rights record.

In a video posted on YouTube, she supports her claims of Morocco’s abuses against the Saharawis by using video footage shot in Tunisia during the first days of the Arab Spring.

Kerrey Kennedy has come under fierce criticism for being allegedly biased towards the Polisario.

On August 28, 2012, she published an article on the Huffington Post where she alleges that her delegation, who was at the time visiting the Sahara, was the witness of the human right abuses committed by the Moroccan police not only against the Saharawis, but also against her daughter and the other members of her delegation.

In the preliminary report she issued after her visit to the Sahara and the Tindouf camps, she refrained from leveling any criticism against the Polisario leadership for its repression against the dissenting voices in the camps.

What was more striking, according to her detractors, was her deafening silence regarding the fate of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who has been separated from his family for two years when he dared to state publicly, in August 2010, that Moroccan autonomy plan, presented in April 2007, was more likely to put an end to the Sahara conflict.

No mention was made either of the embezzlement by the Polisario leadership of humanitarian aid provided by international organizations and government agencies to the population in the camps, which finds, according to many accounts, finds its way to the black market in Mauritania, Mali and other Sub-Saharan countries.

Regardless of Morocco’s mishandling of the situation in the Sahara and the criticism leveled against her by the Moroccans, the precedent of the Ecuadorean case raises doubt about the sincerity and credibility of Ms. Kennedy’s claims.

While there is no doubt that the Moroccan government must protect human rights throughout its country, including in the Sahara, one must ask if Ms. Kennedy is motivated solely by the defense of human rights or by financial gains. If she is concerned about human rights, why does she not lead similar advocacy efforts in defense of the Rohinga minority in Myanmar? If money is her motivation, who is paying her?

In light of her alleged lucrative involvement in the Ecuadorians case, these are legitimate questions that many have posed, and to which they may never find a convincing answer. Yet, what is sure is that this Ecuadorean case casts doubts about Ms. Kennedy’s status as a human rights advocate.

By Samir Bennis