Chiquita bosses escape justice
By Tom Mellen
Sep 19, 2007, 07:39
Editor’s Note: At least the capitalists behind the death squads have been found guilty of murdering banana workers, something they have been doing for more than a century. It remains to convict other major multi-national corporate murders such as Coca-Cola, Nestle… Ron Ridenour, columnist.
A US federal court let Chiquita bosses off the hook on Monday, imposing a mere $25 million (£12.5m) fine on the multinational for payments that it made to Colombian death squads between 1997 and 2004.
Colombian Justice and Interior Minister Carlos Holguin said that the plea agreement in the Chiquita case “is not worthy of US justice, because it gives the idea that impunity can be bought for a few million dollars.
Mr Holguin told Bogota’s Radio Caracol that he found it surprising that “with a payment of $25 million, an amount so insignificant for a multinational the size of Chiquita, people are granted impunity who, in one way or another, were factors and accomplices in the horrendous crimes committed by the self-defence groups.”
Chiquita bosses, who enjoy annual revenues of about $4.5 billion (£2.2bn), had proposed the $25 million fine in March.
US district judge Royce Lamberth approved the deal, which also places the company on probation for five years.
The banana company has admitted to paying about $1.7 million (£850,000) to the notorious United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials.
The payments were approved by senior executives of the firm, according to court documents, and continued even after the disclosures to the Justice Department, despite insistent warnings to the boardroom from Chiquita’s lawyers.
But the Justice Department said in a sentencing memo last week that it had decided against charging 10 Chiquita bosses involved in the payoffs.
Among those who had been under investigation were former Chiquita chief executive Cyrus Freidheim, who is now boss of the Sun-Times Media Group and former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Roderick Hills, who served on Chiquita’s board and is married to Carla Hills, who served as the US trade representative under former US president George H.W. Bush.
Chiquita senior vice president and general counsel James Thompson crowed that the Justice Department had made “the correct decision, which reflected the good-faith efforts” that the company had made to deal with a “difficult” situation.
Federal prosecutor Jonathan Malis emphasised the companies’ “co-operation,” while noting that “Chiquita was funding the bullets which killed innocent Colombians.”
The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports.
Washington designated the AUC as a terrorist group in September 2001.