Exxon settles Indonesia torture case that led to SEC official's ouster

FILE PHOTO: Exxon Mobil not quitting exploration in Brazil

By Andrew Goudsward

(Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp on Monday settled a long-running human rights lawsuit with villagers who claimed soldiers Exxon hired to guard a natural gas facility in Indonesia committed murder and torture.

The two sides said in a Washington, D.C., federal court filing that they had resolved the 2001 case. Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer for the Indonesian villagers at law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, said the terms are confidential.

A spokesperson for Exxon Mobil said the settlement “brings closure for all parties.”

The lawsuit led to the abrupt 2021 resignation of Alex Oh as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement director, after a U.S. judge raised concerns about Oh’s conduct while representing Exxon at law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

The Exxon case was set for a jury trial in Washington starting May 24 to decide whether the company was negligent in contracting with Indonesian soldiers to guard its operations in the country’s Aceh territory during a period of violence and unrest.

The lawsuit also sought to hold Exxon accountable for alleged atrocities committed by the soldiers.

Fryszman said the plaintiffs, 11 villagers who were not named in court filings, broke down in tears at news of the settlement.

“They've been fighting this case for 20 years against one of the world's most powerful corporations,” Fryszman said.

Exxon argued in court filings that there were insufficient links between the company and wrongdoing committed by Indonesian soldiers, an argument U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth largely rejected last year.

Lamberth last year ordered Exxon to pay about $289,000 in sanctions after finding that Oh, while a partner at Paul Weiss, improperly accused opposing counsel of acting “unhinged” during a deposition.

Oh, who did not return to the law firm after her SEC resignation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by David Bario and David Gregorio)