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Court dismisses company’s efforts to stop case against it for paying terrorist groups in Colombia.

By Ben Johnson

Chiquita has long been represented by a woman with a bounty of fruit on her head, but the company is getting closer to being associated instead with murderous Colombian paramilitaries.

On Friday, a Florida judge struck down an effort by the produce company to stop a multimillion-dollar suit brought against it by some 4,000 Colombians. The claimants allege their relatives were tortured and killed by paramilitaries receiving payments from Chiquita in banana growing areas of Colombia, according to the BBC.

A lawyer for the group of Colombians, Paul Wolf, told the BBC that the decision represented a “remarkable victory.”

Chiquita Brands International has admitted it paid paramilitary groups in Colombia and in 2007 was fined $25 million for paying some $1.7 million to the United Self-Defense Forces between 1997 and 2004. The A.U.C. — labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. — was only compensated to protect employees, according to the Cincinnati-based company, which sold its Colombian banana holdings in 2004.

But according to lawyers who have filed lawsuits in federal courts, the company’s shady accounting maneuvers and documentation proving a heated internal debate within the company proves executives knew the compensation was improper. One handwritten note among thousands of court documents said the payments were “the cost of doing business in Colombia,” according to a recent CBS News story.

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