Colombia’s Prosecutor General will reopen the case against Chiquita Brands International for alleged payments to the former paramilitary group, AUC, local media reported Saturday.
“It is necessary to establish the degree of individual and personal responsibility the directors of Chiquita Brands held in the company’s financing of [AUC],” said Colombia’s Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre.
The Chiquita Brands case was closed in March because the presiding district attorney concluded that the 13 executives charged with paying the AUC did so against their will.
Montealegre, however, rejected this finding. According to the current Prosecutor General, such large payments lasting such a long period of time, implies the multinational fruit company “were familiar with the situation [paying the paramilitaries] and accepted it…[Chiquita] knew what the money was being used for funding the AUC’s military operations.”
The testimony of ex-paramilitaries supports Montealegre’s position.
A former AUC commander claimed that far from being extortion, it was in fact Chiquita who initiated contact with the AUC. Raul Hasban, another disbanded paramilitary, allegedly produced a list of banana companies that made payments to the AUC. As a result Montealegre has stated he will also investigate these companies.
Chiquita is currently embroiled in a class action lawsuit against a group of Colombian families in the United States. The multinational fruit company is accused of paying the AUC for security services, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. The lawsuit claims Chiquita allowed paramilitaries to use one of its ports to “ship drugs out and smuggle arms in.”
“The plaintiffs in this case lost family members, including sons who were banana workers or their mothers who stood up for their communities, as result of the conduct alleged”, said a member of Cohen Milstein, the law firm representing the familes.
In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million after being found guilty of paying the AUC $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004.