Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chiquita Board Members: Total Identification

When I joined the board, I knew the company was making payments to paramilitary groups in Colombia.1

For more than six years, from 1997 to February 2004, Chiquita Brands International, through its subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex S.A., made monthly payments to the paramilitary structures in the regions of Urabá and Santa Marta, which resulted in more than 100 payments for more than $1.7 million dollars. Chiquita Brands began to make these payments in 1997, following a meeting between then paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño and the then Banadex general manager. The payments were transferred in part through the Papagayo Convivir.2 It should be recalled the US Secretary of State designated the AUC paramilitary structure as a foreign terrorist organization on September 10, 2001, which made it a crime according to US law for any citizen to knowingly provide material support and resources to said organization.3 This financing, which turns Chiquita Brands into one of the founders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC by its initials in the Spanish language), propelled the massive commission of crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations committed by paramilitary organizations in these two regions, including forced displacement, homicide, torture, and forced disappearance, among other crimes.4

Within this context, on November 5, 2001, 3,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 5 million 5.62 mm caliber rounds of ammunition were unloaded and entered into Colombia from the ship named Otterloo. These weapons were unloaded in the port of Zungo, specifically on the docks of Banadex S.A., from where the weapons were taken on 14 trucks to paramilitary organizations in Córdoba and Urabá. Then paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño publicly admitted that this incident consisted in “his best goal.”5 Most of these weapons were also never surrendered as part of the paramilitary demobilization process undertaken between 2003 and 2006. On January 16, 2008, the continuation of these crimes sponsored and encouraged by Chiquita Brands was exposed when 47 AK-47 assault rifles — apparently from the very same Otterloo — were confiscated by the Colombian national police from the paramilitary organization led by the “demobilized” Daniel Rendón Herrera, aka Don Mario, older brother of the former paramilitary chief Freddy Rendón Herrera, aka El Alemán.6

In addition to being sustained in both the Colombian and US judicial systems, the relationship between Chiquita Brands International and the paramilitary structure in Colombia — and therefore the responsibility of this enterprise in the commission of multiple crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations — has been further corroborated over the last year by such paramilitary chiefs as Salvatore Mancuso Gómez, aka Santander Lozada, Freddy Rendón Herrera, aka El Alemán, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, aka Jorge 40, Nodier Giraldo Giraldo, aka El Cabezón or Jota, and Éver Veloza García, aka HH.7

On September 17, 2007, Chiquita Brands International pled guilty to the felony of “Engaging in Transactions with a specially-designated Global Terrorist” before the US District Court for the District of Columbia and was sentenced to paying 25 million dollars to the US Department of Justice. According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, the Court specifically determined that Chiquita’s payments to paramilitary organizations were “reviewed and approved by senior executives of the corporation, including high-ranking officers, directors and employees.” Additionally, the Court considered that, by no later than September 2000, Chiquita’s senior executives were informed that “the corporation was paying the AUC and that the AUC was a violent paramilitary organization led by Carlos Castaño.” Furthermore, a Chiquita attorney conducted an investigation into the payments in August 2000 and prepared a report, which made clear the “Convivir was merely a front for the AUC and described the AUC as a ‘widely-known, illegal vigilante organization.’” Lastly, this same in-house attorney “presented the results of his investigation to the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors during a meeting in defendant Chiquita’s Cincinnati headquarters in September 2000.”8 In exchange for accepting this responsibility, the Court decided not to prosecute criminal charges or to identify the individual responsibilities of the implicated directors, which also opened the door to move forward the criminal cases in Colombia as well as the eventual extradition of the responsible parties.

As a result of the aforementioned, since more than a year ago, different senior government officials and politicians from both Colombia and United States have repeatedly have made statements in favor of the investigation and extradition of Chiquita Brands’ senior officials and officers.9 The Colombian Attorney General’s Office has even allegedly taken action in this respect. According to the Union-Tribune of San Diego (USA), on March 20, 2007, the Colombian Attorney General said he would demand the extradition of “eight people allegedly involved with Chiquita’s payments.”10 Although no one was identified at the time, attorney general Mario Iguaran Arana asserted that “[t]hey should be judged in Colombia, not only for the extortion payments, but also for the transport and safekeeping of 3,000 rifles.”11 Then, on December 7, 2007, the El Tiempo newspaper reported that the Attorney General’s Office issued an order to call the following Chiquita board members to make statements under charges for conspiracy to commit an aggravated crime and the financing of illegal armed groups: ROBERT W. FISHER, STEVEN G. WARS, CARL H. LINDER, DURK I. JAGER, JEFFREY D. BENJAMIN, MORTEN ARNTZEN, RODERICK M. HILLS, CYRUS F. FREIDHEIM Jr., and ROBERT OLSON.12

Nonetheless, in April 2008 attorney general Mario Iguaran Arana alleged that the extradition process could not yet be carried out due to not having “identified and charged” the implicated persons. “There are indeed some Chiquita Brands directors, but we are not able to ask for them in extradition, rather we have to have some information contained in the agreement reached with the US court that includes a confidentiality agreement,” asserted Iguarán.13

This last statement is even more surprising when it is taken into account that since the beginning of January 2008 Case Number No. 63.625 was filed before the Attorney General’s Office, which provides specific information on the identities of the Chiquita directors, executives, and senior employees implicated in this case as the responible parties for the payments or the provision of weapons to paramilitary organizations, and as the alleged instigators and sponsors of crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations committed by these same organizations.14

Moreover, there are not only “eight people allegedly involved with Chiquita’s payments” that should be investigated. Due to their positions in management, auditing, finances or operations, at least 14 directors, executives and senior employees of Chiquita Brands International should be investigated and requested in extradition, namely CYRUS FREIDHEIM JR., RODERICK M. HILLS, ROBERT OLSON, MORTEN ARNTZEN, JEFFREY D. BENJAMIN, STEVEN STANBROOK, DURK I. JAGER, JAIME SERRA, ROBERT F. KISTINGER, JAMES B. RILEY, ROBERT W. FISHER, CARL H. LINDNER, KEITH LINDER, and STEVEN WARSHAW.15

Based on the previously described events, we demand the Attorney General Mario Igaurán carry out the corresponding legal proceedings to bring about the prosecution, capture, and extradition of the previously mentioned persons from Chiquita Brands International for the crimes committed in Colombia due to their involvement in the financing of the paramilitary structure and the introduction of weapons.

The Attorney General’s Office clearly does not need to wait for the United States to respond to its request in order to make progress in the investigation of the persons most responsible for the crimes committed. The Attorney General’s Office should take effective and timely measures that reflect its will in the fight against impunity; these actions should be supported by the respective administrative and judicial functionaries from both countries.

Following is a list of the implicated persons from Chiquita Brands:

Cyrus Freidheim Jr., chairman of the board of directors, chief executive officer, and chairman of the executive committee from March 19, 2002,16 until May 25, 2004.17

Roderick M. Hills, director and president of the audit committee from March 19, 2002,18 until June, 2007,19 legal counsel to then President Ford in 1975, and president of the board of the Securities and Exchange Commission from 1975 to 1977.20 According to the Los Angeles Times, on December 22, 2003, he stated before the board of directors, “we appear to [be] committing a felony.”21

Robert Olson, vicepresident, legal counsel, and secretary from 1995 until August 31, 2006.22 According to the Washington Post, on April 3, 2003, Robert Olson told others on the board of directors that he and Hills thought the company had a strong defense and simply should let the Justice Department “sue us, come after us.”23

Morten Arntzen, director and member of the audit committee from March 19, 2002,24 up to the present.25 According to the Wall Street Journal, the Norwegian-American Morten Arntzen knew of the payments in April 2002, one month after joining the board. “When I joined the board, I knew the company was making payments to paramilitary groups in Colombia,” stated Morten Arntzen.26

Jeffrey D. Benjamin, director and member of the executive and audit committee27 from March 19, 2002, until February 6, 2007.28

Steven Stanbrook, director and member of the executive committee29 from December 21, 2002,30 up to the present.31 Stanbrook was also a member of the audit committee from 2002 to 2004.32

Durk I. Jager, director33 from December 200234 up to the present,35 and member of the audit committee from 2005 up to the present.36 Jager, a Dutch national, worked with Proctor & Gamble from 197037 to 2000, when he resigned from the board of directors.38

Jaime Serra, director from February 200339 up to the present.40 Serra, a citizen of Mexico, was the deputy secretary of the Treasury, secretary of Commerce and secretary of Finance of Mexico.41

Robert F. Kistinger, has held such positions as president, chief operating officer, director, member of the executive and audit committees, among other positions, since 1999. He has been with Chiquita for more than twenty years.42

James B. Riley, vice president and chief financial officer from 200143 to September 2004.44 Robert W. Fisher, director and chief operating officer from March 19, 2002,45 up to the present.46 From 1991 to 1993 and from 1996 to 1998, Fisher was the chief operating officer of the Noboa Group’s banana operations. Before joining the Noboa Group, Fisher spent 25 years at Dole Food Company, including the last four as president.47

Carl H. Lindner, president of the board of directors from 1984 until March 2002 and chief executive officer from 1984 to August 2001.48 According to the magazine Mother Jones, from 2000 to 2004, he was largest private donor to political parties in the Untied States.49

Keith Linder, son of Carl H. Lindner, vice-president of the board of directors and member of the executive committee from 1996 to 2000.50 Steven Warshaw, executive committee, president, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer from 1996 to 2000.51

Now Mr. Eric Holder, who helped negotiate a settlement for Chiquita to halt the SEC proceedings against just the payment part of Chiquita's subsidiary's staff (not the part involving the alleged transfer of arms to the AUC, which Columbian groups, Amnesty Int'l, and others are calling for investigations on) is nominated as Attorney General. He's already been questioned by Congress committee about his involvement on what's reported as his unofficial agreement with Bill Clinton pardons, including Marc Rich's. Since this indirectly may involve deaths Congress will probably look into it in the vetting process. This probably can be stopped in the US Senate Judiciary Committee if enough conflict of interest or questions thereof are uncovered with Holder's investigation. Pity, so much talent from U.S. District Courts and Circuit Courts and the Obama transition team comes up with another Clintonite with questionable corporate creds.
Hi Doug,

Pathetic and typical government behavior - yes. Thank you for your comment.

All Good Things,
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