The Juice has obtained a copy of the 110-page civil suit filed yesterday in West Palm Beach Federal District Court on behalf of 242 Colombian plaintiffs against Chiquita Brands International (click here for a copy of the lawsuit). The suit, brought by Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, which has offices in Fort Lauderdale, New York, and Miami, demands restitution for the families of victims tortured, raped, murdered, and "disappeared" by a right-wing terrorist organization with deep ties to the Colombian government.
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The suit claims Chiquita paid the organization, AUC (Autodefensorias Unidas de Colombia), an estimated $1.7 million to fight left-wing groups hostile to Chiquita's Colombian banana farming operations.
Chiquita had been repeatedly warned by its own lawyers and by the U.S. Department of Justice that the company was committing a felony by funneling funds to AUC, which had been officially listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Despite warnings, Chiquita continued to pay AUC, both for protection and to underwrite aggressive guerrilla warfare
against left-wing militias and others sympathetic to left-wing causes, including union organizers and human rights activists. The suit further alleges that Chiquita knowingly helped AUC smuggle arms and ammunition into the country and cocaine and other drugs out, using its private ports and banana ships.
We spoke briefly with Boies, Schiller & Flexner partner Lee Wolonsky tonight. Wolonsky referred to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra's ruling in February, which allowed a similar suit against Chiquita to go forward. Boies, Schiller & Flexner, he said, is seeking damages on behalf of plaintiffs in excess of $1 billion -- an amount far exceeding the $25 million Chiquita paid in the 2007 criminal judgment that preceded the civil suits. "Chiquita has been trying for some time to get all of the cases against it dismissed," Wolonsky told us. "They made $3.5 billion in profits last year. We're hoping this time for a judgment that would impact the company significantly."