Financial News

  • 26 July 2014, 4:35

Chiquita Colombia Deaths Lawsuits Thrown Out

A US court has thrown out claims that US fruit giant Chiquita was liable for thousands of deaths during Colombia's civil war.

The firm was accused of supporting terrorists because it secretly paid $1.7m (£1m) to a right-wing paramilitary group that carried out the killings.

The Cincinnati, Ohio-based firm admitted similar criminal charges in 2007 brought by the Justice Department, and paid a $25m fine.

The company has always maintained it had to pay the paramilitary groups or else its workers would have been attacked.

On Thursday, Miami's 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that federal courts had no jurisdiction in the lawsuits. 

"Noble goals cannot expand the jurisdiction of the court granted by statute," wrote Judge David Sentelle.

They cited a 2013 US Supreme Court ruling that limited attempts by foreigners to seek damages for overseas human rights abuses in US courts.

Chiquita Brands International welcomed the ruling, which could spare it billions of dollars in payouts.

But lawyers for the estimated 4,000 Colombian plaintiffs still have the option of pursuing the case elsewhere.

Internal company documents, revealed by a Justice Department investigation, show Chiquita was aware of the payments' risks.

"Need to keep this very confidential," wrote one company executive in 1997 in a handwritten note, "people can get killed."

It made the payments from 1997 until 2004 to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia paramilitary group.

Chiquita sprang from the United Fruit Company, whose heavy-handed dealings in Latin America inspired the term "banana republic".

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