The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is about to release a massive trove of documents —more than 9,000 — about the business dealings between Chiquita Brands International and Colombian paramilitaries. Chiquita has fought to block the disclosure of the documents for nearly eight years.
A federal appeals court ruled last month that the SEC should release the files to the National Security Archive, a non-profit organization that declassifies government documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The National Security Archive has been trying to obtain Chiquita’s corporate documents since 2008.
“They are definitely trying to hide something. There is no question about it,” says Michael Evans, senior researcher at the National Security Archive.
In 2007, Chiquita pled guilty to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for paying the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary group that murdered and displaced tens of thousands of people, more than $1.7 million between 1997—2004. The DOJ fined Chiquita $25 million.
The company insisted it was a victim of extortion and had to make the payments to protect its workers. But a DOJ investigation, released in 2011 by the National Security Archive, found that Chiquita had paid paramilitary groups on both sides in exchange for security and information. The 5,500-page investigation, based on Chiquita’s corporate records, showed how the company tried to conceal payments to the armed groups; in one memo, a company lawyer asks if this was just the “cost of doing business in Colombia.” The lawyer urged others in the company to keep it confidential because “people can get killed.”
The SEC will soon be releasing an additional 9,257 pages that the company considers even more sensitive. Evans expects the new files will reveal more details about how the payment system worked, and potentially list the people involved. He describes the files as “the most important collection of corporate records ever assembled in U.S. corporate ties to terrorism.”
Chiquita, which is being sued by thousands of victims of the AUC and guerrillas, says the documents, if made public, would deprive them of a fair trial.
Chiquita declined our request for comment.
For more on this story, watch this video by the Fusion Investigative team.