Chiquita Brands International has denied a report in The Daily Beast that the company tried to block an anti-terrorism bill backed by some 9/11 victims and families.
Citing congressional lobbying disclosures, the online publication said Chiquita spent $780,000 in the last year-and-a-half lobbying against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Versions of the bill in the U.S. House and Senate target funding sources for terrorism and aim to facilitate claims against them.
“Chiquita has never sought to prevent the passage of JASTA or to deny a remedy to victims of the 9/11 attack,” spokesman Ed Loyd said in a June 4 statement.
“To the contrary, Chiquita supports the cause of terrorist victims, as Chiquita was one itself,” according to the statement. “And the article falsely portrays Chiquita as having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this purported lobbying campaign, when the facts show that is not true.”
The company acknowledged contacting congressional staff on the proposed law.
“Chiquita’s concern is that the legislation, as currently drafted, could potentially encourage meritless lawsuits against innocent individuals and companies forced to pay ransom to secure the release of loved ones who are kidnapped by terrorists,” Loyd said in the statement. “Or to pay extortion demanded by terrorists under threat of murder or violent retaliation if such payments are not made.”
Chiquita’s concern, he said, is that the final legislation does no inadvertent harm.
The bill would expand liability for individuals, groups or companies funding terrorist activities.
In Colombia in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chiquita made extortion payments to both sides of an internal conflict, according to the company, in order to protect employees. Chiquita and other businesses were forced to make such payments, Loyd said. The Daily Beast noted Chiquita’s assertion that the money was extorted.
In one 1995 incident, the FARC — Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — forced more than 20 Chiquita farm workers off a company-owned bus and killed them.
“Chiquita voluntarily self-disclosed to the U.S. Department of Justice that its subsidiary was being forced to make extortion payments to save innocent lives,” Loyd said in the statement. “The Justice Department acknowledged that Chiquita’s payments were made in response to threats, not because Chiquita supported the aims or objectives of Colombian terrorists.”
Chiquita agreed to a $25 million fine in 2007 after a Justice Department investigation into the payoffs to the FARC.