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Chiquita lawsuits (re Colombia)

Photo AFPPara la versión en español, haga clic acá.

In March 2007, Chiquita admitted that it made payments from 1997 to 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known by its acronym in Spanish, AUC), a paramilitary organization that the US Government had designated a terrorist group.  Chiquita settled a criminal complaint by the US Government at that time and agreed to pay a $25 million fine.

In July 2007, a group of Colombians filed a lawsuit against Chiquita under the Alien Tort Claims Act in US federal court in New Jersey.  The plaintiffs are family members of trade unionists, banana workers, political organisers, social activists and others in Colombia who were targeted and killed by paramilitaries during the 1990s through 2004.  The plaintiffs contend that the funds that Chiquita paid to Colombian paramilitary organizations during this period made the company complicit in extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Chiquita’s Colombian banana-growing region.

The families of other people, who had also allegedly been killed by Colombian paramilitary groups that had received payments from Chiquita, brought similar lawsuits against Chiquita in other US federal courts:

- in the District of Columbia, filed on 7 June 2007
- in Florida, filed in June 2007
- in New York, filed on 14 November 2007

In February 2008, the US Multidistrict Litigation Panel consolidated these lawsuits into one to be tried in federal court in Florida.

In its annual report filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in February 2008, Chiquita stated: “The company believes the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit and is defending itself vigorously against the lawsuits.”

On 11 March 2008, a new federal lawsuit was filed in New York against Chiquita by the families of five missionaries allegedly slain by fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its acronym in Spanish, FARC).  After Chiquita entered the plea agreement with the US government regarding payments to the AUC, it later admitted that it had also made payments to FARC.  The plaintiffs in this lawsuit allege that the payments Chiquita made to FARC (as well as material support provided by the company) supported acts of terrorism which subsequently contributed to the deaths of the five missionaries.  On 4 February 2010, District Judge Kenneth Marra let stand five of the lawsuit's claims while dismissing 19.  The US Government has designated FARC as a terrorist group. 

In March 2011, two new lawsuits against Chiquita were filed in Washington on behalf of families of 931 people, who were allegedly killed by the FARC and AUC between 1990 and 2004.  In response to the filings, Chiquita commented that the company and its employees were targeted by the groups and therefore it should not be held responsible for the crimes committed by the FARC and AUC. 

In April 2011, National Security Archive (NSA), an independent researcher group, published internal Chiquita documents, obtained from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act.  These documents appear to contradict the company’s contention that its payments to the FARC and AUC amounted to "protection" money and that Chiquita never received any actual services in exchange for them.  In July 2015 the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ordered the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to release over 9000 pages of documents filed by Chiquita in relation to paramilitary payments.  NSA had filed a freedom of information request with the SEC for these documents.

In May 2011, the new lawsuits were consolidated with other suits against the company into one, involving allegations of over 4000 killings of Colombian nationals.  On 3 June 2011, the court denied Chiquita’s motion to dismiss all claims brought under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act.  District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the plaintiffs may proceed with their claims against Chiquita alleging torture, extrajudicial killings, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The judge rejected Chiquita’s argument that the case should be dismissed because it could have foreign policy implications.  On 27 March 2012, the judge ruled that the court could consider the plaintiffs' legal claims which are based on Colombian law.   Chiquita appealed this decision, and on 24 July 2014 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.  On 14 August 2014, the plaintiffs filed a petition with the court of appeals asking it to rehear the case.  In April 2015, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In June 2016, a US Judge allowed the Colombian victims of paramilitary killings to move forward with their lawsuit against former Chiquita executives under the Torture Victim Protection Act.  In November 2016, a US district judge allowed a class action lawsuit against the company to move forward.  The court rejected the company's arguments that the case should not be heard in the US, ruling that litigation in Colombia would pose a risk to plaintiffs due to the threat of ongoing paramilitary violence in the area.  

In March 2017, over 200 relatives of people killed by the AUC filed a class action complaint in Florida against Chiquita executives alleging that they made payments to the AUC and allowed the AUC to use Chiquita’s private shipping ports to move arms and drugs, therefore, intending to benefit from the AUC’s systematic killings of civilians to prevent work stoppages on banana plantations.

In May 2017, human rights organizations called on the International Criminal Court to investigate 14 former and current Chiquita executives and employees for complicity in crimes against humanity.

- Human Rights Groups Call for ICC to Investigate Chiquita Executives for Death Squad Payments, teleSur, 19 May 2017
- Claim against Chiquita for funding Colombian death squads to go to trial in U.S.The Wisconsin Gazette, 30 Nov 2016
US Appeals Court orders SEC to release Chiquita's Colombian paramilitary payment files, Fresh Fruit Portal, 23 Jul 2015
- U.S. top court rejects Colombian Chiquita human rights suit, Lawrence Hurley, Reuters, 20 Apr
- Chiquita wins dismissal of U.S. lawsuits over Colombian abuses, Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, 24 Jul 2014
- [radio] Lawsuit alleges Chiquita responsible for the deaths of thousands of Colombian civilians - Part 1: The plaintiffs, Worldview, 21 Jul 2011
- [radio] Lawsuit alleges Chiquita responsible for the deaths of thousands of Colombian civilians - Part 2: The defense, Worldview, 21 Jul 2011
- [PDF] Federal Court rejects Chiquita's effort to dismiss human rights class-action suit, EarthRights International, Cohen Milstein, 3 Jun 2011
- Court Documents Reveal Chiquita Paid for Security, Jim Lobe, Aprille Muscara, IPS, 7 Apr 2011
- Families Sue Chiquita in Deaths of 5 Men, Carmen Gentile, New York Times, 17 Mar 2008
- Victims of Colombian Conflict Sue Chiquita Brands, Associated Press, 15 Nov 2007
- The Banana War, Kevin Gray, Portfolio.com, 17 Sep 2007
- Chiquita: $25M fine for terror payments, CNN.com, 11 Sep 2007
- Chiquita sued over paramilitary deaths in Colombia, Reuters, 14 Jun 2007
- Lawsuit accuses U.S. banana company Chiquita of sponsoring Colombian terrorism, Associated Press, 7 Jun 2007

Chiquita:
- Chiquita response to NGOs communication to Intl. Criminal Court, Jun 2017
- Chiquita Statement on Agreement with U.S. Department of Justice, 14 Mar 2007

US Department of Justice:
- Chiquita Brands International Pleads Guilty to Making Payments to a Designated Terrorist Organization And Agrees to Pay $25 Million Fine, 19 Mar 2007

International Rights Advocates [plaintiffs’ counsel]:
Victory in Chiquita Case as Florida Federal Judge Orders Case to Proceed in US Courts (English/Spanish), 2 Dec 2016
- Press Release: Eleventh Circuit decision in Chiquita Alien Tort Status Litigation, 30 Jul 2014
Earthrights International [plaintiffs’ counsel]:
- Doe v. Chiquita Brands International, Case summary
Earthrights International, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll:
- Victims of Colombian Atrocities Win Right to Sue Chiquita for Complicity Under Colombian Law, 27 Mar 2012

- Class action complaint for damages against Cyrus Friedheim and Charles Keiser, 11 Mar 2017
Order Denying in Part Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss, 29 Nov 2016
[PDF] In re: Chiquita Brands International, Inc. Alien Tort Statute Litigation - Petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc, 14 Aug 2014
- [PDF] Cardona, Doe, Montes, et al. v. Chiquita Brands International - Opinion, US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, 24 Jul 2014
- [PDF] Doe v. Chiquita Brands International - Class Action Complaint for Damages, 18 Jul 2007 [filed in US District Court for the District of New Jersey]
- United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation: [PDF] In re: Chiquita Brands International, Inc., Alien Tort Statute and Shareholders Derivative Litigation - Transfer Order, 20 Feb 2008
- [PDF] Does 1-976 v Chiquita Brands International, Inc. - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 9 Mar 2010
- [PDF] Does 1-254 v Chiquita Brands International, Inc. - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 24 Mar 2011
- [PDF] Does 1-677 v Chiquita Brands International, Inc. - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 24 Mar 2011

- In re Chiquita Brands International, Inc., Alien Tort Statute and Shareholder Derivative Litigation:

- [PDF] Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration, 27 Mar 2012
- [PDF] Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Consolidated Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaints, 9 Apr 2010 
- [PDF] Plaintiffs' Supplemental Response in Opposition to Defendant's Consolidated Motion to Dismiss the Complaints, 21 May 2010 
- [PDF] Plaintiff Does 1-976' Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, 21 May 2010 
- [PDF] Valencia Plaintiffs' Separate Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint, 21 May 2010
- [PDF] Does 1 through 254 v Chiquita Brands International - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 24 Mar 2011
- [PDF] Order of the Court denying Chiquita's motion to dismiss claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act, 3 Jun 2011

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Article
11 August 2017

7 accusing Chiquita of complicity in deaths of relatives through payments to Colombian paramilitaries are voluntarily dismissed from US lawsuit

Author: Shayna Posses, Joyce Hanson & Christopher Crosby, Law 360

"7 Drop Paramilitary Funding Claims In Chiquita MDL", 9 Aug 2017

The claims brought by seven relatives of murdered hostages who accused Chiquita of being complicit in their deaths by routinely paying off the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group that killed them are being voluntarily dismissed from a sprawling multidistrict litigation…

Olimpia del Carmen Quintero Coronel, Erlenis Maria Zarza Vanegas, Ledis Maria Lobato Valiente, Jeremias Blandon Romana, Elkin Antonio Ramos, Ofelia David de Osorio and Antonio de Jesus Giraldo Jimenez were each named in separate notices of voluntary dismissal, bringing to an end their involvement in litigation…

Jack Scarola of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley PA, who represents the plaintiffs, told Law360 on Wednesday that some of the thousands of survivors of the victims of terrorism have died over the extended period the matter has been pending and the cases on their behalf can no longer be prosecuted…

The Valencia suit — which alleged violations of the Alien Tort Statute, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and state and Colombian tort law — was originally filed in 2008…

The case was one of nine suits involving similar claims against Chiquita brought on behalf of thousands of Colombian nationals that were centralized by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that year…

In late November, Chiquita and individual executives failed to persuade the Florida federal judge to dismiss the MDL based on forum non conveniens…

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Company response
12 June 2017

Chiquita response

Author: Chiquita

The matters alleged in this litigation were thoroughly investigated by an independent special committee.   The committee was led by the leading law firm in America for such investigations—Fried, Frank, Shriver & Johnson and its partner, Michael Bromwich, a former federal prosecutor who has investigated matters such as the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the conduct of Aldrich Ames and the Iran- Contra conspiracy. 

This independent committee found absolutely no evidence to suggest that either the company or its management was influenced by any motivation other than the sincere and abiding belief that payments to Colombian paramilitary groups were made under duress and were necessary to protect the lives of its employees.   A copy of the committee’s report is attached, with confidential identities redacted [see report here].

Chiquita offers its condolences to all Colombians who suffered during this regrettable period in the country’s history.  But we have been clear that, at all times, the company prioritized the safety of its employees and their families, and acted accordingly.   Once an American jury hears all of the evidence we are certain that Chiquita will be completely vindicated.

Article
19 May 2017

Human Rights Groups Call for ICC to Investigate Chiquita Executives for Death Squad Payments

Author: teleSUR

A coalition of Colombian and international human rights groups called on the International Criminal Court on Thursday to investigate 14 former and current Chiquita executives and employees who had direct involvement in facilitating crimes against humanity by funding right-wing paramilitary organizations in Colombia between 1997 and 2004 in the midst of Colombia's bloody internal conflict…

The petition continues by accusing the suspects of being “involved in repeatedly making payments to the AUC despite their knowledge of the AUC’s involvement in murder, forced displacement, enforced disappearance, sexual violence, torture, and persecution of civilians.”

As a corporate entity, Chiquita pled guilty in a U.S. federal court in 2007 to making illegal payments totalling US$1.7 million to the AUC after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. However, because the court only tried Chiquita as a corporate body, no individual executive or employee involved has been legally held accountable to date…

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Article
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Author: International Human Rights Clinic - Harvard Law School, FIDH y el Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR)

Hoy, en nombre de las comunidades de paz de San José de Apartado, una coalición de organizaciones de derechos humanos pide a la Fiscalía de la Corte Penal Internacional (CPI) investigar el rol de ejecutivos de la empresa multinacional Chiquita Brands International en la contribución a crímenes de lesa humanidad. Hasta la fecha, ningún ejecutivo ha rendido cuentas, a pesar de que la empresa confesó haber entregado millones de dólares a paramilitares colombianos que mataron, violaron, y desaparecieron a civiles...

Como corporación, Chiquita ya fue declarada culpable en un tribunal federal estadounidense en 2007 por haber financiado ilegalmente a los paramilitares, pero no ha habido investigación penal en contra de los ejecutivos que supervisaron e implementaron el esquema de pagos. Y aunque el litigio civil contra los ejecutivos de Chiquita continúa en curso en los tribunales estadounidenses, no se ve un horizonte para un procesamiento penal en Estados unidos...

"Solicitamos que la CPI amplíe su examen preliminar en Colombia para incluir concretamente a los ejecutivos de Chiquita," agregó Dimitris Christopoulos, Presidente de la FIDH...

Si las autoridades colombianas no avanzan con este caso, esta comunicación solicita que el Fiscal pida autorización formal de la Sala de Cuestiones Preliminares para abrir una investigación contra los ejecutivos de Chiquita...

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Article
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Author: International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, la Fédération internationale des ligues de droits de l’Homme (FIDH) et le Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo

Au nom des "communautés de paix" colombiennes, une coalition d'organisations de défense des droits humains a demandé aujourd'hui à la Procureure de la Cour Pénale Internationale (CPI) d'enquêter sur la complicité présumée des dirigeants de la compagnie Chiquita dans la perpétration de crimes contre l'humanité. A ce jour, aucun de ces dirigeants n'a été poursuivi, alors même que la compagnie a admise avoir versé des millions de dollars à des paramilitaires colombiens. Ceux-ci ont tué, violé, et fait disparaître des civils...

En 2007,...Chiquita avait déjà plaidé coupable devant une cour fédérale américaine pour le financement illégal de paramilitaires colombiens. Toutefois, la poursuite individuelle des dirigeants qui ont supervisé et autorisé le système de financement a toujours été éludée. Alors que le contentieux au civil est imminent devant les juridictions américaines, aucune poursuite criminelle n'est à l'ordre du jour.

« Nous demandons que la CPI étende aux officiels et dirigeants de Chiquita l'examen préliminaire qu'elle mène actuellement sur la situation en Colombie...» [a déclaré Dimitris Christopoulos, le Président de la FIDH]...

Si les autorités colombiennes n'avancent pas sur ce dossier, la Communication demande au Procureur de demander formellement l'autorisation d'ouvrir une enquête à la Chambre préliminaire de la CPI sur les crimes imputables aux dirigeants de...Chiquita...

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Article
18 May 2017

Human Rights Coalition Calls on ICC to Investigate Role of Chiquita Executives in Contributing to Crimes against Humanity

Author: International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) & Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo

Today, on behalf of affected Colombian communities, a coalition of human rights groups called on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the complicity of executives at Chiquita Brands International in crimes against humanity. To date, no executive has been held to account despite the company's admission that it funneled millions of dollars to Colombian paramilitaries that killed, raped, and disappeared civilians...

...Chiquita...already pled guilty in a U.S. federal court in 2007 to illegally funding Colombian paramilitaries. But accountability for the executives who oversaw and authorized the payment scheme has been elusive: while civil litigation is pending in U.S. courts against Chiquita executives, no criminal prosecution is on the horizon. Colombia has not been able to get jurisdiction over them...

"We request that the ICC expands its current inquiry in Colombia to specifically include Chiquita's executives and officials," said Dimitris Christopoulos, the President of FIDH...

If Colombian authorities do not move ahead with this case, the submission asks the Prosecutor to request formal authorization from its Pre-Trial Chambers to open an investigation into Chiquita's corporate executives...

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Author: Stéphanie Maupas, JusticeInfo.net

Quatorze actuels et anciens responsables de Chiquita et de son ancienne filiale, Banadex, sont visés par la plainte pour « contribution » aux crimes contre l’humanité des paramilitaires colombiens, déposée sur le bureau de Fatou Bensouda ce 18 mai. Aucun d’entre eux n’est colombien. Ils vivent, ou ont vécu aux Etats-Unis...

La Coalition formée contre Chiquita Brand International Inc. ne réclame pas à la Cour l’ouverture d’une enquête. Pas à ce stade. Elle demande l’extension de l’examen préliminaire sur les crimes commis en Colombie, ouvert par le bureau du procureur en juin 2004...

La FIDH, membre de la coalition, demande donc à la Cour de surveiller de près les procédures en Colombie et de s’assurer que les responsables de Chiquita ne restent pas impunis. Si les autorités colombiennes devaient renoncer à poursuivre les « suspects », alors la Cour pourrait mener sa propre enquête et juger dans ses murs, estiment les plaignants. Pour eux, les responsables de Chiquita auraient « supervisé et autorisé »  des paiements aux [paramilitaires]...

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Article
18 May 2017

The contribution of Chiquita corporate officials to crimes against humanity in Colombia

Author: International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) & Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo

[Full text of the communication to the International Criminal Court]

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Article
6 April 2017

A Decade in Turmoil: Where Chiquita's GC Steered His Company Wrong

Author: Sue Reisinger, Corporate Counsel (USA)

...First came the government, then the civil plaintiffs. And for the past 10 years, Olson [former general counsel of Chiquita] and Chiquita have been living with the constant litigation hanging over them—along with the threat of hundreds of millions of dollars in liability…[over "security payments" to Colombian paramilitaries]

Chiquita has fought the complaints on a variety of fronts with some success. The defendants' attacks included, among other things, alleged lack of jurisdiction, failure to state a proper claim, extraterritoriality, failure to exhaust adequate remedies in Colombia, lack of criminal intent, statute of limitation bars and improper forum under forum non conveniens…

What's left of the plaintiffs' cases mainly rests on TVPA [Torture Victim Protection Act] claims against the remaining individual defendants, plus tort claims based on state and Colombian laws…

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Article
20 March 2017

Relatives of Colombians killed by paramilitary groups file complaint in US alleging that Chiquita executives committed crimes against humanity

Author: Alex Pickett, Courthouse News (USA)

"Families Blame Banana Execs for Killings", 15 Mar 2017

...In a complaint filed March 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, more than 200 relatives of the slain claim nothing short of “a campaign of terror” was carried out by paramilitary groups in Colombia’s Uraba region to maintain control of vast banana plantations owned by Chiquita.  The plaintiffs...claim that former Chiquita CEO Cyrus Freidheim and manager Charles Keiser violated U.S., Colombian and international laws against torture, extrajudicial killing and other “crimes against humanity” by directing the activity.  According to the 155-page complaint, Chiquita made regular monthly payments to security forces controlled by the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia, or AUC, totaling more than $1.7 million...Even after the United States designated the AUC as a terrorist organization, the families say, Chiquita continued to fund them...In addition to paying the AUC, the complaint alleges Chiquita allowed drugs and arms to move through its private port...Last November, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra of West Palm Beach rejected the banana company’s request to hear the case in Colombia, citing security risks to the plaintiffs. Earlier last year, Marra ruled another lawsuit against former Chiquita executives could move forward...

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