Hiring Death Squads Is Coming Back to Haunt U.S. Companies
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According to Tijeras, for years the companies provided up to 90% of the AUC's income.
When a case was filed by the families and heirs of dozens of victims against Dole this past April (2009), the company immediately rejected the charges as "baseless allegations" that "are the product of the most untrustworthy sources imaginable" and "nothing more than the false confessions of convicted terrorists from Columbia, who had every motive to lie about their activities in order to minimize their jail time."
(The plaintiffs' complaint is a horrific litany of summary executions, off-the-bus abductions, forced-entry murders and kidnappings, ghoulish disappearances and other crimes committed against trade unionists and land reform activists.)
Of course Dole is correct to refer to the AUC as "terrorists" -- a designation that the U.S. State Department assigned to the group (coincidentally) on September 10, 2001. But if the payments are proven, then, as Chiquita learned, the consequences will be harsh: Payments to designated terrorists are illegal -- whether coerced or not -- and whether or not the company is cognizant or indifferent to the consequences.
As mentioned, Chiquita pleaded guilty in March 2007 after voluntarily disclosing the payments, and ended up agreeing to pay a $25 million criminal fine for violating U.S. antiterrorism laws. The Chiquita criminal case was remarkable for numerous reasons, not least because the company continued to make the payments against the advice of its own outside counsel, and even AFTER notifying the Justice Department.
As part of that settlement, Chiquita acknowledged that it had also made payments to the FARC from 1989 to at least 1997 -- the period when the missionaries were abducted and killed. Now the families are suing Chiquita under the civil provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991, which allows American citizens and their heirs to be compensated for injuries resulting from international terrorism.
Meanwhile, an "independent" review commissioned by the company's board reinforced Chiquita's claim that its sole motivation was to protect the lives of its employees -- from both the FARC and the AUC.
That report may help deflect derivative lawsuits filed by the company's own shareholders, but the conclusion won't pass the laugh test in Columbia, where attorney general Mario Iguaran has roundly rejected Chiquita's explanation and reportedly threatened to extradite as many as eight Chiquita executives (including John Paul Olivo, Charles Dennis Keiser and Dorn Robert Wenninger) who he says were responsible for approving the payments and maintaining a "criminal relationship" with the paramilitaries.
Another remarkable thing about the Chiquita case is the fact that its attorney at the time is now the U.S. Attorney General.
When he was Chiquita's attorney, Eric Holder told the Washington Post that it would be unfair to treat any company "harshly" that voluntarily discloses payments to designated terrorists, and that if the company is penalized, the individuals within the firm should not be. Yet just a few years before he first passed through the revolving door, when he was Deputy Attorney General, Holder himself had authored a famous corporate crime policy memo (known as the "Holder Memo") which suggested that the "prosecution of a corporation is not a substitute for the prosecution of criminally culpable individuals within or without the corporation."
At this point you'd think Holder would automatically and very publicly recuse himself from any decision concerning the requested extradition of Chiquita execs (would the U.S. tolerate it if a government official tied to the cartels blocked an extradition request?) or any other matter related to the investigation of multinational complicity in violence in Columbia.