A group of Colombian campesinos (small scale farmers) have secured an urgent interim freezing injunction, granted by the High Court at an on notice hearing yesterday, against oil company Amerisur Resources Plc (“Amerisur”), a UK plc. The injunction requires Amerisur to preserve £3million of its UK assets, the purpose being to ensure that the claims and legal costs can be met if they succeed.
The injunction is linked to a High Court legal action which was instituted on behalf of the Colombians on 30 December 2019 against Amerisur for allegedly polluting the waterways in the Putumayo region.
The urgency arose because a court hearing has been scheduled on Tuesday 14 January 2020 to approve the £242m sale of Amerisur to GeoPark Colombia, and the delisting of Amerisur from the Alternative Investment Market (“AIM”). The Claimants’ concern is that this will be followed by the winding up and dissipation of assets of Amerisur, and that this would render their claims pointless. The purpose of the interim injunction granted by Mrs Justice Steyn was to protect the Claimants’ interests against this eventuality until a final determination of the Claimants’ freezing injunction application is made by the court at a further hearing.
The Claimants are members of remote communities living in southern Colombia in Putumayo, near the Ecuadorian border. The waterways in the area were used for drinking water, bathing and fishing. The Claimants allege that over the past 10 years these have become contaminated with oil and are no longer safe to use. They allege that this has been caused by spillages from oil wells operated in close proximity to the communities as well as an attack by an armed group which overturned tankers carrying Amersur’s oil leading to large amounts of oil spilling into the streams and wetlands. The Claimants argue that under Colombian law Amerisur are liable to the Claimants in damages.
Richard Lord QC represented the Claimants, instructed by Leigh Day.