According to an interim first quarter price and volume update, Chiquita continues to be impacted by new EU banana import rules, which last year resulted in a surge in costs for the firm.Banana prices in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East rose six percent on a US dollar basis, compared to the year ago period. North American prices also continued to rise, although on a more modest level of one percent. Volumes were up nine percent in North America and four percent in Europe. Volumes in Asia Pacific and the Middle East fell nine percent, primarily due to unfavorable whether conditions resulting in lower yields, said the firm. The price hikes come at a challenging time for the firm, which said it nevertheless managed to keep volumes up by maintaining its market leading position. But the firm has certainly felt the strain of tough market conditions, and this prompted it in recent months to make a number of organizational changes and new appointments in a move designed to strengthen its flagging business. In October, Chiquita named newly appointed global product leaders, a chief information officer and a new president of its Fresh North America business. This came just weeks after Chiquita embarked on a number of debt-reducing initiatives, including the prospective sale of its shipping fleet, the suspension of its quarterly cash dividend, and requesting a temporary waiver from its lenders. These moves, Chiquita had said, were "prudent steps" to help it resurface from a challenging market environment. However, the firm has also been hit with an additional $25m payment, for which it said it has recorded a reserve. The fine is the result of a US Department of Justice investigation into the company's dealings in Colombia. The three-year government inquiry focused on payments made by the company to certain groups in that country designated under US law as foreign terrorist organizations. On Monday Chiquita pleaded guilty to funding the groups, on the grounds that it was paying protection money. According to Chiquita's chairman and chief executive officer Fernando Aguirre, the company had been "forced" to make payments to right- and left-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia to "protect the lives of its employees". The firm, which voluntarily disclosed these payments to the Justice Department in April 2003, sold its Colombian subsidiary in 2004. A document detailing the payments, which were reportedly approved by senior company executives, was filed by the Justice Department in federal court in Washington. The payouts totaled more than $1.7m, according to the court document. According to Chiquita, the plea agreement reached yesterday was a "reasoned solution" to an "admittedly very difficult situation". The investigation included an examination of the conduct of a number of Chiquita's employees and directors, and their role in the payments. Company officials may face extradition to Colombia to face criminal charges. Chiquita, which is one of the world's largest banana producers, said it does not expect the fine will impact its ability to operate its business.