Chiquita Pleads to Protection Payoffs

Article excerpt

Byline: Jerry Seper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Chiquita Brands International, a leading global distributor of bananas, pleaded guilty yesterday and agreed to pay a $25 million fine for paying protection money to a designated terrorist organization.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein, who heads the Justice Department's national-security division, said the Cincinnati-based company pleaded as part of an agreement under which the firm also will serve five years probation.

The plea, entered before U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, also requires the company to cooperate in the Justice Department's ongoing terrorism investigation. The first payment of $5 million is due at sentencing on June 1.

Mr. Wainstein said the plea agreement stemmed from payments that Chiquita made to the terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, which has been named by the U.S. government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist making it a federal crime for a U.S. corporation to provide money to the AUC.

In April 2003, Chiquita volunteered to the government that it had made payments to the AUC to protect its workers in Colombia.

"Like any criminal enterprise, a terrorist organization needs a funding stream to support its operations," said Mr. Wainstein. "For several years, the AUC terrorist group found one in the payments they demanded from Chiquita Brands International.

"Thanks to Chiquita's cooperation and this prosecution, that funding stream is now dry and corporations are on notice that they cannot make protection payments to terrorists," he said. …