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Ecuador judge rejects bribe claims against him in Chevron case

(Reuters) - The Ecuadorean judge who issued an $18.2 billion verdict against Chevron Corp has denied bribery allegations made by another judge who presided over the landmark pollution case in the South American country, according to a court filing on Thursday.

Nicolas Zambrano had been accused in a U.S. court-filed sworn statement by Alberto Guerra, a fellow judge who heard the case in Ecuador in 2003 and 2004, of taking a $500,000 bribe from the plaintiffs.

Zambrano denied the allegation in his own affidavit, filed in the same New York federal court for a fraud case being brought by Chevron. He also claimed in the affidavit that Guerra had told him that the U.S. oil company would offer Zambrano $1 million in exchange for a "statement in favor of Chevron."

"I did not accept the proposal. After that, Dr. Guerra called me two more times to inquire about my answer. When I absolutely rejected the proposal, he did not ever call again," Zambrano wrote in his affidavit, dated March 28, 2013, but filed with the court on Thursday.

Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson told Reuters in an email that Zambrano's allegations were "false and completely uncorroborated."

Zambrano's filing is the latest salvo in a two-decade battle between Chevron and Ecuadorean residents over environmental damage.

The residents claim that Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001, polluted the rainforest and water supplies with hundreds of unlined waste pits from 1964 to 1992, and that crops and public health were damaged.

Chevron has said that its share of the waste pits was cleaned up and that it was not responsible for environmental and public health damage.

In 2011, Zambrano issued the $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron. Last July, an Ecuadorean judge increased the damages to $19 billion.

Guerra claimed in his affidavit that he illegally ghostwrote Zambrano's judgment. In his filing, Zambrano denied the allegation.

Chevron's Robertson said Guerra's account was corroborated by computer, bank, and shipping records, as well as the plaintiffs' lawyers' own internal e-mails.

A spokeswoman for the plaintiffs has argued that Guerra is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Chevron to make "false allegations" about the Ecuador trial court judgment.

Guerra, in his declaration, said he received $38,000 from the company for the costs of providing the evidence. Chevron has confirmed that the company will pay Guerra's family $10,000 for monthly living expenses and $2,000 for housing.

Guerra was not immediately available to comment on Thursday.

The New York case is Chevron Corporation v. Donziger, et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 11-00691.

(Reporting by Braden Reddall in San Francisco)

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