Chiquita fined $25M

for hiring terrorists


WASHINGTON (Reuters) U.S. banana giant Chiquita Brands International Inc. pleaded guilty today to doing business with a terrorist organization for paying protection money to Colombian paramilitaries between 2001 and 2004.

 Chiquita agreed to pay a fine of $25 million (all figures U.S.), slightly more than half the profits its Colombian banana-growing operation earned during that period. The first payment of $5 million is due at sentencing on June 1.

 According to the plea agreement, Chiquita paid more than $1.7 million starting in 1997 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a violent right-wing group known by its Spanish acronym AUC.

 The payments continued after the U.S. government designated the AUC as a foreign terrorist organization in September 2001. Cincinnati-based Chiquita sold its Colombian subsidiary in 2004.

 A Chiquita spokesperson said the company has no way to verify whether the independent Colombian growers it now buys bananas from are supporting the AUC or other violent groups.