WASHINGTON (CN) - Chiquita Brands International admits it paid off FARC terrorists to buy protection for its banana plantations in Colombia, thereby aiding and abetting the FARC guerrillas who murdered geologist Frank Pescatore Jr. just after Christmas 1996, Pescatore's family claims in Federal Court.
In response to several shareholder derivative lawsuits, Chiquita appointed a Special Litigation Committee, which found that the company had paid the FARC "from $100,000 to $200,000 per year," diverting as much as 10% of the annual gross revenue from Chiquita's Banadex subsidiary to the guerrillas, according to the complaint.
The family claims that to try to extract ransom for Pescatore, who had already been killed, a FARC eviscerated his corpse, filled it with formaldehyde and lime and had it made up and photographed sitting on a cot "holding a current daily newspaper in its hands as proof of life." When the family refused to ransom him, the FARC dumped his long-dead body in the jungle.
They claim the FARC commander in charge of the kidnapping and murder was Ricardo Palmera Pineda, who was arrested in Ecuador in 2004, extradited to the United States, and in January 2008 was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
"In March 2007 the Department of Justice and Chiquita submitted a joint factual proffer in which Chiquita admitted that it had knowingly provided financial support to FARC during the period the preceded that kidnapping and murder of Frank Thomas Pescatore Jr.," the family says. "(T)he factual proffer stated that Chiquita has willfully provided funding to FARC 'from in or about 1989 through in or about 1997, when the FARC ... controlled areas where defendant Chiquita had its banana-producing operations.'"
The complaint continues: "On Feb. 25, 2009, Chiquita completed a Special Litigation Committee ('SLC') report to address several shareholder derivative suits that were filed after Chiquita's admissions to the Department of Justice. The SLC report documented Chiquita's decision to place its own business interests above the safety of others in Colombia and the manner it used its wholly owned subsidiary, Bandax, (sic) to make illicit payments to FARC with the direct knowledge and authorization of Chiquita's officers in Colombia and at its Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters.
"The SLC estimated that Chiquita paid FARC through its Bandax subsidiary amounts that 'ranged from $100,000 to $200,000 per year,' even though, as the SLC report noted, 'Chiquita personal (sic) based in Central America and Colombia were well aware of the guerrilla groups' violent acts.' Over time, the payments to FARC became fixed as a percentage of Banadex's (sic) gross revenues with as much as 10 percent being diverted to FARC.
"Moreover, Chiquita's SLC report documented several instances where Chiquita or its Banadex subsidiary permitted Chiquita's transportation network to be used to ship arms and ammunition to Colombia guerrilla groups ...
"Chiquita's efforts at concealing its payments to Colombian terrorist organizations were so successful that Chiquita's CEO, Fernando Aguirre, boasted to a CBS reporter on May 11, 2008, 'if we hadn't gone to the Justice Department, we probably would not be here talking about this whole issue. No one would know about this.'
"Consequently, as a result of Chiquita's fraudulent concealment, plaintiffs, even through reasonable due diligence, were unable to learn of the defendants' wrongful activities until after Chiquita's admissions to the Department of Justice in March 2007."
The Pescatores demand punitive damages for aiding and abetting terrorism, wrongful death, and other charges. They are represented by Nathaniel Tarnor.
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