Chiquita Brands International has lost a suitcase aimed at preventing the US Securities and Exchange Commission from releasing documents related to the banana giant’s payments to now-defunct Colombian paramilitary umbrella organization AUC, reported Bloomberg Thursday.
A Washington judge rejected Chiquita’s argument that releasing the documents would allow investigators to harm the company.
The documents were requested by the National Security Archive representing thousands of victims who claim to have been a victim of groups belonging to the AUC — according to the US government a terrorist group at the time of the payments — that were being paid by the banana giant.
Chiquita had claimed that declassification of the documents “will make them available to the general public, including members of the press and individuals and organizations that seek to distort the facts surrounding the payments that [Chiquita subsidiary] Banadex made to the AUC under threat of force.”
However, “Chiquita’s speculation about potential publicity and its effect on a future jury in the Florida litigation does not satisfy the level of certainty required” to exempt the records from the law, Bloomberg cited judge Richard Leon in his Wednesday ruling.
“There can be no doubt that the SEC rationally determined from the record that disclosure of the Chiquita payment documents would not seriously interfere with the fairness of the Florida litigation,” the judge added.
Chiquita told Bloomberg it planned to appeal the judge’s decision.
“The ‘National Security Archive’ is not an independent public interest group,” spokesman Ed Loyd said. “It is associated with and is actively assisting the plaintiffs’ lawyers who are involved in trying to extract millions of dollars from Chiquita through litigation.
“Chiquita does not believe that the Archive is entitled to the documents under FOIA and the company will continue to defend against these claims.”
Michael Evans of the National Security Archive told the US television network that his organization is no part in the Florida court case, but added that it’s “certainly possible, if not likely” the plaintiffs will use available documents as evidence in the civil suit aimed at demanding compensation.
Chiquita, the owner of the namesake banana brand, was fined $25 million after pleading guilty in March 2007 to engaging in transactions with a terrorist group. It paid AUC militias $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004, prosecutors said.