U.S. Fruit Firm Admits Ties to Colombian Terrorists; Chiquita Fined $25 Million for Giving FARC, AUC Protection Cash

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Chiquita Brands International, a leading global marketer and distributor of bananas and other fresh and processed food products, has admitted accusations by federal authorities that they have done business with terrorist organizations.

The Cincinnati-based company and several unnamed corporate officials are accused in court documents of making protection payments to the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the AUC. Chiquita also did business with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, according to prosecutors. Both groups have been designated by the State Department as terrorist organizations.

The company, the vast majority of whose 26,000 employees worldwide live and work in South America where the firm grows its bananas, said a plea agreement involving a $25 million fine had been reached.

"The information filed today is part of a plea agreement, which we view as a reasoned solution to the dilemma the company faced several years ago," said a statement by Chiquita CEO Fernando Aguirre. "The payments made by the company were always motivated by our good faith concern for the safety of our employees."

The payments were approved by senior executives at the company, according to federal prosecutors, who said Chiquita's corporate books were kept in a manner to conceal the payments. They said the payments to the AUC began as early as 1997.

"No later than in or about September 2000, defendant Chiquita's senior executives knew that the corporation was paying AUC and that the AUC was a violent paramilitary organization," prosecutors said in the filing. …