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One of the more notable footnotes of the expected $25 million settlement announced last week between Chiquita Brands International and the Justice Department was the role outside counsel played in helping the government’s case against the fruit company. According to a document filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, two Chiquita officials learned in February 2003 that a right-wing paramilitary group to which a Colombian subsidiary of Chiquita was making protection payments had been designated a terrorist group by U.S. officials. Outside counsel for Chiquita warned the payments were illegal, with stark messages including “Bottom Line: CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT” and “Chiquita should leave Colombia.” Notes from a lawyer make clear some company officials didn’t take the warnings seriously. Even after Chiquita disclosed the payments to Justice in April 2003, the payments — which eventually totaled more than $1.7 million — did not stop. So who was this outside counsel? Chiquita spokesman Michael Mitchell wouldn’t say. Nor would the company’s current counsel, Eric Holder Jr. of Covington & Burling. In the past, Kirkland & Ellis has represented Chiquita, most notably during a case against The Cincinnati Enquirer that resulted in a $10 million settlement. Kirkland’s Laurence Urgenson would only say: “Chiquita has asked that all inquires [sic] be referred to Mike Mitchell.” Chiquita will be in court March 19 before Judge Royce Lamberth.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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