In March of this year, Chiquita Brands agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine for payments it made to a paramilitary group in Colombia. The payments were made by the Colombian subsidiary of Chiquita in order to protect the company’s employees from threatened violence. Unfavorable press coverage emphasized payments by Chiquita to a “terrorist group” and downplayed the threats made to Chiquita, which prompted it to make the payments in the first place.
The criminal information filed by the government with the District of Columbia federal district court, and which served as the basis for Chiquita’s plea in the case, shows a company caught between a rock and a hard place — the rock being the consequences of not paying the terrorist group, and the hard place being U.S. criminal penalties that could be imposed for paying the group in question. Although there is never an ideal or win-win solution to the dilemma with which Chiquita was faced, the corporation’s experience, as detailed in the criminal information, can provide some guidance as to ways that the situation might have been improved if the company and its lawyers had behaved somewhat differently.
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