Pubdate: Mon, 19 Mar 2007
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2007 The New York Times Company
Author: Simon Romero
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


CARACAS, Venezuela -- Colombian officials said over the weekend that 
they would consider seeking the extradition of senior executives of 
Chiquita Brands International after the company pleaded guilty in 
United States federal court to making payments to paramilitary death squads.

Chiquita, one of the world's largest banana producers, agreed to pay 
a fine of $25 million last week to the United States Justice 
Department to settle the case. Chiquita told the Justice Department 
that from 1997 to 2004, a subsidiary in Colombia had paid $1.7 
million to right-wing paramilitary groups, which are classified by 
the United States government as terrorist organizations.

The company said that the payments had been motivated by concern for 
the safety of employees, and that similar payments had also been made 
to left-wing Colombian groups.

Officials from Chiquita, which is based in Cincinnati, did not 
respond Sunday to repeated requests for comment.

President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia told reporters on Saturday that 
extradition "should be from here to there and from there to here." 
Colombia, the Bush administration's closest ally in South America, 
has extradited hundreds of drug-trafficking suspects to the United 
States since Mr. Uribe took office in 2002.

Chiquita, whose history in Colombia goes back more than a century, 
said it voluntarily informed the Justice Department in Washington of 
its payments to the paramilitary groups in 2003, after the 
organizations' classification as terrorist organizations.

The company's former chief executive from 2002 to 2004, Cyrus 
Freidheim Jr., on Friday told the board of directors of the Sun-Times 
Media Group, of which he is currently chief executive, that he is 
among present and former officials at Chiquita that may be subjects 
of the investigation in the United States.

Tammy Chase, a spokeswoman for Sun-Times, declined to comment Sunday 
on Colombia's potential efforts to extradite current or former 
Chiquita executives.

Extraditions of prominent American business executives to Latin 
America are rare. Though the possibility of any American executives 
of Chiquita doing jail time in Colombia may be slim, the company is 
coming under greater scrutiny there despite the sale in 2004 of 
Banadex, its Colombia unit, for about $43.5 million.

United Fruit Company, one of the companies that merged to create 
Chiquita, was long considered a bastion of American influence in 
Colombia's banana-growing regions. Thousands of striking United Fruit 
workers were massacred in Colombia in 1928, an incident that made its 
way into "One Hundred Years of Solitude," the epic novel by Gabriel 
Garcia Marquez.

In 2003, a report by the Organization of American States said that a 
ship used by Chiquita's Colombian subsidiary may also have been used 
for an illicit shipment of 3,000 rifles and 2.5 million bullets for 
Colombian paramilitary groups. The chief prosecutor's office in 
Colombia said last week that it would ask the United States Justice 
Department for details about the shipment, thought to have been made in 2001.

Colombia's current government has also been accused of ties to the 
right-wing paramilitaries, which also exported large amounts of 
cocaine to the United States. A widening scandal tying prominent 
supporters of Mr. Uribe, including the former chief of the executive 
branch's intelligence service, has resulted in several resignations 
and calls to oppose a proposed trade agreement between Colombia and 
the United States. 
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