Chiquita admits to working with Colombian terrorist group

The Chiquita banana company admitted Wednesday to doing business with a Colombian terrorist organization and agreed to pay a $25 million US fine.

The Chiquita banana company admitted to doing business with a Colombian terrorist organization on Wednesday and agreed to pay a $25 million US fine.

The Cincinnati-based banana company worked out the fine with U.S. federal prosecutors, who accused Chiquitaof paying $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, a right-wing organization also known as AUC.

Chiquita Brands International said the payments were made to ensure the safety of its employees, who work on farms in volatile parts of Colombia, where leftist militants frequently clash with right-wing paramilitaries. AUC promised to keepChiquita's workers safe in exchange for money, Chiquita said.

The United States designated the AUC a terrorist organization in September 2001. The AUC is alleged to be responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia in recent years. The group is also accused of running much of the country's cocaine trade.

"The payments made by [Chiquita] were always motivated by our good faith concern for the safety of our employees," Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita's CEO, said in a statement Wednesday.

Details of the fine and settlement agreement were not released Wednesday, but Aguirre said the company has money set aside to pay the $25-million fine.

The U.S. Justice Department launched a lengthy investigation into Chiquita's financial dealings with AUC several years ago. In April 2003, Chiquita officials and lawyersadmitted toprosecutors they had been paying AUC, but still continued to hand money over to the AUC until 2004.

Federal prosecutors filed what's known as an "information" against Chiquita in a U.S. court Wednesday. Unlike an indictment, the information is resolved by the prosecutors and the defendants and is usually followed by a guilty plea.

With files from the Associated Press