A US court in Washington DC Sept. 17 ordered Chiquita Brands International to pay a $25 million fine to settle charges that it underwrote a terrorist organization in Colombia. Chiquita had agreed to the fine when it pleaded guilty in March to paying protection money to Colombian paramilitaries from 2001 to 2004. US District Judge Royce C. Lamberth approved the agreement, which also places the company on probation for five years. The fine is the largest ever imposed under US counter-terrorism laws. The amount is slightly more than half the profits Chiquita earned from growing bananas in Colombia during that period. Company spokesman Michael Mitchell said Chiquita will pay the fine in five equal installments over five years.
The Justice Department said in a sentencing memo that it had decided against charging 10 Chiquita executives involved in the payoffs. That decision was made “based solely on the merits and the evidence” against them, a department spokesman told AP Sept. 12.
Chiquita alerted the Justice Department in April 2003 of the payments. According to the plea agreement, Chiquita paid more than $1.7 million starting in 1997 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). “This was a difficult situation for the company. We were being extorted and we had to protect the well-being of our employees and their families, which were in danger,” Chiquita counsel James Thompson said in a prepared statement. The payments continued after the US government designated the AUC a foreign terrorist organization in September 2001. Payments were also made to the ELN and FARC guerillas, the company said. Cincinnati-based Chiquita sold its Colombian subsidiary in 2004. (AP, Reuters, Sept. 17)