Chiquita ex-Ops Chief doubles down on extortion claim

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Chiquita ex-Ops Chief doubles down on extortion claim

The most recent chapter of the ongoing paramilitary financing case involving Chiquita, former head of Colombia operations Charles Keiser is standing by his original extortion claim, Law360 reported.

The banana giant is accused of funding the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an organization linked to the deaths of 10 workers.

Keiser took the stand in West Palm Beach for the second time on May 28, and recounted how Carlos Castaño, a notorious paramilitary leader, summoned him to his house. Castaño then conveyed threats to the company’s business, Keiser said.

This led to the firm beginning regular payments to AUC, under the guise of "private security services." These payments are now at the heart of a class-action lawsuit filed by the families of the killed workers.

EarthRights, the firm representing the families and other civilians involved, alleges that Chiquita is liable for the workers' deaths.

Keiser said that Castaño was aware of Chiquita’s previous payments to left-wing paramilitary groups, namely, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). However, once AUC established itself in the area, it said payments “would have to stop”.

"Carlos Castaño had total access to my schedule and my family's schedule," Keiser said, noting that one of the paramilitary leader’s guards was married to his receptionist. 

Although Castaño never directly threatened Keiser, the former Ops Chief interpreted the meeting as a warning.

Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that AUC helped the firm clamp down on labor unions, and that Chiquita paid the group nearly $2 million to protect its interests during the armed conflict.

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