Chiquita execs off hook for terrorist funding

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Executives of banana firm Chiquita will no longer face prosecution
in relation to a terrorist funding scandal that has been under
investigation, following the approval of a plea agreement between
the company and the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

The DOJ yesterday filed a sentencing memorandum regarding the "protection payments"​ made by the company's former subsidiary in Colombia, in which it recommended that the US District Court for the District of Colombia approve the plea agreement made by the firm in March this year. The plea agreement with the DOJ followed a three-year government investigation into payments made by the company in Colombia to certain groups designated under US law as foreign terrorist organizations. The investigation included an examination of the conduct of a number of Chiquita's employees and directors, and their role in the payments. Chiquita claimed the payments were "protection payments".​ 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, and revealed that the payouts totaled more than $1.7m. Under the terms of the agreement Chiquita will pay a fine of $25m, payable in five annual instalments. The firm said it had recorded a reserve in 2006 for the full amount, and that the fine will not impact its ability to operate its business. Soon after the initial plea agreement was made in March, the Colombian authorities were said to have made statements saying they would call for the extradition of some company executives to face criminal charges. However, as part of yesterday's announcement, it was revealed that the government had decided not to prosecute any current or former company executives in connection with its investigation. "We believe this is the right decision and one that reflects the good faith efforts of the company - and its officers, directors and employees - to address a very difficult situation involving the lives and safety of our employees,"​ said Aguirre in a statement yesterday. "This agreement is in the best interests of the company and reflects a responsible resolution to a difficult dilemma faced by the company several years ago,"​ he added.

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