The mood was testy, and the lawyers on both sides were snapping at each other at a sentencing hearing in a Washington, D.C., courtroom on Sept. 17. The defendant, Chiquita Brands International Inc., had already signed a plea agreement. But that didn’t stop Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Malis from taking a slap at the giant produce-grower. Malis accused the company of making millions in profits while paying off Colombian right-wing terrorists for almost seven years. He said the $1.7 million in payments “fueled violence” and “paid for weapons and ammunition to kill innocent people.”

Chiquita’s lead defense attorney, Eric Holder Jr., shot back. He accused Malis of shading the facts, of “being a little too cute, a little too crafty,” as well as “a little deceptive.” Holder, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Covington & Burling, told the judge that the government was partly to blame for the company’s plight. He stressed that Chiquita had asked the U.S. Department of Justice in mid-2003 if it should stop the payments to the terrorists: “All [the government] had to do was say, ‘Yes, stop the payments.’ Just say yes.” But the Justice Department never said “stop.”

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