Colombian Prosecutor Seeks to Extradite 8 Chiquita Employees for Paying, Arming Terrorists

Colombia's chief federal prosecutor said Tuesday he will demand the extradition to Colombia of eight people who were allegedly involved with the U.S. fruit giant Chiquita's payments to right-wing death squads and leftist rebels.

Chiquita Brands International and U.S. prosecutors have agreed to a fine of US$25 million for funding a terrorist group. Specifically, Chiquita acknowledged making monthly payments for six years that totaled $1.7 million to the far-right paramilitaries in zones where its wholly owned subsidiary, Banadex, had banana plantations. Chiquita acknowledged making similar payments to Colombia's leading leftist rebel groups.

In 2001, a Banadex ship was used to unload 3,000 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition for the paramilitaries, which were officially listed as a "terrorist organization" by the U.S. government two months earlier.

"They should be judged in Colombia, not only for the extortion payments, but also for the transport and safekeeping of 3,000 rifles," said chief federal prosecutor Mario Iguaran in an interview with RCN radio.

Iguaran did not identify the people he hopes to extradite, and the U.S. complaint did not identify anyone by name either — it simply said that 10 people working for Chiquita or its Banadex subsidiary were involved in the illegal payments. It wasn't clear on Tuesday whether this list corresponds to the list of individuals Iguaran hopes to put on trial in Colombia.

Iguaran said the arms were used by the paramilitaries to push leftist rebels out of the zone in northern Colombia where Chiquita had its banana plantations.

Chiquita has said it paid the paramilitaries to protect its employees.

The paramilitaries have carried out some of the worst atrocities in Colombia's civil conflict, including forced displacements and the massacres of thousands.