A group of Colombian campesinos (small scale farmers) have secured an urgent interim freezing injunction, granted by the High Court today, against oil company Amerisur Resources 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 the campesinos succeed in an environmental damages legal claim.

The environmental claim was issued at the High Court by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of the Colombians on 30 December 2019 against Amerisur for allegedly polluting the waterways in the Putumayo region.

The urgency for the injunction arose because a court hearing has been scheduled on Tuesday 14thJanuary 2020 to approve the £240million 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. In seeking the injunction, the claimants’ objective was to protect their rights not to cause any inference with Amerisur’s Scheme of sale.

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, which will probably be in March.

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 residues from Amerisur’s operations 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 on five tankers containing Amerisur’s crude oil leading to large amounts of oil spilling into the streams and wetlands. The claimants argue that under Colombian law Amerisur are responsible for the damage caused by such attacks given their predictability at the time in that area and for cleaning up afterwards, and that they failed to meet those obligations.

Law firm Leigh Day is currently representing 87 clients from the Putumayo region. They believe that approximately 500 community members overall are likely to join the claim.

Amerisur is an English company whose main business activity is on-shore oil exploration and extraction in Colombia. The environmental pollution case is being brought under Colombian law but will be heard by the courts in England because the company falls under the jurisdiction of the courts in England and Wales.

Richard Meeran, head of the international team at law firm Leigh Day, said:

“The lives of our clients have been blighted for years by the pollution of their local waterways which they allege has been caused by the activities of Amerisur. Our clients argue that the oil pollution has rendered the waterways toxic and unsuitable for drinking and bathing and has killed many of the fish on which they relied as part of their diet. Obtaining the injunction was imperative to preserving our clients’ right to access to justice.”