Chiquita faces new lawsuit, $1 bln damages sought

* Company has faced several damages suits for Colombia ops

* Chiquita admitted paying right-wing AUC paramilitaries

* In latest case, 242 seek damages for killings, injuries

MIAMI, April 14 (BestGrowthStock) – Nearly 250 Colombians who say
they and relatives were victims of violence by Colombian
right-wing paramilitaries filed a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking
more than $1 billion in damages from the Chiquita banana
company, which has admitted making payments to paramilitaries.

The lawsuit against the U.S.-based Chiquita Brands
International Inc (CQB.N: ), was filed on behalf of 242
plaintiffs in a U.S. District Court in Florida. The plaintiffs
were also seeking unspecified punitive damages from the court.

In their complaint, some allege that family members were
killed by the right-wing paramilitary group AUC, or United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, “as a result of Chiquita’s
support for the AUC and its operations.”

Others allege they themselves were seriously injured by the
AUC, which is accused of carrying out massacres during
Colombia’s long-running guerrilla war before it began disarming
in 2003.

The lawsuit is the latest of several similar damages suits
filed against Chiquita over its operations in Colombia.

In a March 2007 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department,
Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million fine to settle a criminal
complaint accusing it of paying the AUC more than $1.7 million
from 1997 to 2004.

The U.S. government has declared the AUC a foreign
terrorist organization, along with Colombian leftist rebels.

Chiquita acknowledged in 2007 it had made payments to both
left- and right-wing militias. It said that the money was aimed
at protecting Chiquita employees at a time when kidnappings and
murders were frequent in the Andean country’s northern
banana-growing region.

“This lawsuit, and others like it, will hold Chiquita —
which had revenues in excess of $3.5 billion last year —
accountable to those victimized by its unlawful conduct,” said
Lee Wolosky, a partner at Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP which is
acting on behalf of the 242 plaintiffs.

Chiquita could not be reached for comment.

“Chiquita has already admitted to engaging in criminal
conduct that violated federal law by making systematic
financial payments to a foreign terrorist organization,”
Wolosky said.

“Yet it has refused to provide compensation to the victims
of terrorist atrocities made possible by its regular, repeated
and knowing financial support,” added Wolosky, who is a former
White House counterterrorism official under Presidents Bill
Clinton and George W. Bush.

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(Reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Robert MacMillan)

Chiquita faces new lawsuit, $1 bln damages sought