Chiquita Brands International sued the Securities and Exchange Commission, seeking to block the release of documents related to payments the company made to terrorist groups in Colombia to protect its banana-growing interests according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
The company paid the Justice Department a $25 million fine in 2007, after admitting that it had given Colombian paramilitary groups that the U.S. classifies as terrorist organizations more than $1.7 million. Chiquita has maintained that it was extorted by the groups and made the payments in an attempt to protect its workers.
Chiquita’s newest legal action, filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, D.C., attempts to block the SEC from releasing documents tied to the case to the National Security Archive.
In 2007, the National Security Archive published thousands of documents from Chiquita that it said showed how the company and paramilitary groups had a mutually beneficial relationship.
The "reverse" FOIA filing is the latest development in a four-and-a-half-year Archive legal effort to document Chiquita's financial relationships with illegal armed groups responsible for some of the worst human rights atrocities of Colombia's decades-old civil war.
The new case is the direct outgrowth of a 2010 lawsuit in which the Archive sought to compel the SEC to process a pair of FOIA requests relating to the Chiquita investigation. More than three years later the agency made its final decision with respect to legal, financial and other documents Chiquita turned over to the SEC during the course of its inquiries, granting confidential treatment to only 45 pages among some 23 boxes of responsive material. Chiquita's "reverse" FOIA action follows multiple attempts on its part to convince the SEC to reverse that decision.
In making its case against disclosure of the "Chiquita Payment Documents," the company cites FOIA Exemption (7)(B), which exempts from disclosure "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" to the extent that production "would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(B). Chiquita claims that it is subject to two pending "adjudications," a consolidated civil suit filed in Florida on behalf on behalf of victims of the terrorist groups that Chiquita funded, and a preliminary criminal investigation now underway in Colombia.
A lawsuit filed by thousands of Colombians who claim their relatives were killed by the paramilitary groups is still working its way through federal court in Florida. The plaintiffs allege the paramilitary groups helped keep labor unions out of the banana fields and brutalized workers.