The banana company Chiquita Brands International admitted to a US federal court in March that it had made almost US$2 million in payments to Colombia's top paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), incurring US$25 million in fines for supporting the organization, designated a terrorist group by the US State Department, and others like it. Colombian prosecutors have since sought extradition of Chiquita executives for supporting the death squads responsible for a majority of atrocities in the country's ongoing civil war. Another US-based company, Drummond, is facing a criminal investigation into whether it played a role in the murder of three union leaders in Colombia.
Chiquita paid US$1.7 million in protection money over 7 years
Chiquita pled guilty in front of US District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in Washington, DC, on March 19 to charges that, for years, it paid the AUC to protect its Colombian banana-growing operations. The company pleaded guilty to one count of doing business with a terrorist organization.
The plea was part of a deal with prosecutors that called for the US$25 million fine. The fine is to be levied at a sentencing hearing on June 1, and Chiquita pledges to cooperate in a Justice Department investigation of the payments. No Chiquita executives were charged.
The agreement ends a lengthy Justice Department investigation into the company's financial dealings with right-wing paramilitaries and leftist rebels the US government deems terrorist groups. Prosecutors say the Cincinnati-based company and several unnamed high-ranking corporate officers agreed to pay about US$1.7 million in at least 100 installments between 1997 and 2004 to the AUC.
The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia's civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country's cocaine exports. The US government designated the right-wing militia a terrorist …