Case Brought by Families of Murdered American Missionaries Against Chiquita Can Go Forward
CASE BROUGHT BY FAMILIES OF MURDERED AMERICAN MISSIONARIES AGAINST CHIQUITA FOR PROVIDING ILLEGAL PAYMENTS AND OTHER SUPPORT TO COLOMBIAN TERRORIST GROUP CAN GO FORWARD, FEDERAL JUDGE RULES
Federal District Judge Holds That Victims' Allegations Support Aiding and Abetting Liability and Their Allegations Are Sufficient to State a Claim for Conspiracy Liability
February 5, 2010 (WEST PALM BEACH, FL): A civil lawsuit (Julin et al. v. Chiquita Brands Int'l) brought by the New Tribes Mission of Sanford, Florida and the families of five missionaries kidnapped and murdered by the Colombian terrorist organization known as Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia ("FARC") against Chiquita Brands International, Inc. ("Chiquita") can go forward according to a ruling issued today by Federal District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra.
The suit, pending in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleges that Chiquita knowingly provided money, guns and other support to FARC before and during the time the widows' spouses were brutally abducted, held hostage, and ultimately murdered. The plaintiffs' suit was brought under the civil provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act (18 U.S.C. § 2333(a)), a statute permitting American citizens or their heirs and estates to recover damages for injuries that they suffered by reason of acts of international terrorism.
Tania Julin, the widow of Mark Rich, said: "When we found out that an American company was paying the terrorists who kidnapped and murdered our husbands, we knew we had to do something. We're just grateful that we now have a chance to go forward." Mrs. Julin and the families of the five missionaries are represented by a group of law firms, including Osen LLC of Oradell, New Jersey, Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP of Portland, Maine and Kohn Swift & Graf, P.C. based in Philadelphia.
The Ruling By The Court
In denying Chiquita's attempt to have plaintiffs' claims dismissed, Judge Marra observed: Plaintiffs adequately allege that Chiquita, knowing that FARC was a terrorist organization, intentionally agreed to provide money, weapons, and services to it as part of a common scheme to subvert local trade unions, protect Chiquita's farms and shipments, harm Chiquita's competitors, strengthen FARC's military capabilities, and that Plaintiffs were injured by overt acts done in furtherance of the common scheme.
"The Anti-Terrorism Act was designed to deter exactly the kind of conduct we alleged," said Kohn Swift attorney Steven M. Steingard, "and I think today's decision confirms our view." Attorney Gregory Hansel of Preti Flaherty concurred, noting "We're delighted with the analysis provided by Judge Marra's decision and, more importantly, the fact that it allows these plaintiffs to have their day in Court."
Added Gary M. Osen of Osen LLC in Oradell, New Jersey, "this is a significant victory for the victims' families, but it's only a first step toward accountability for Chiquita. It's still a long road."
Chiquita Acknowledges Making Payments To Terrorists
In March 2007, Chiquita pled guilty to violating U.S. anti-terrorism laws by funding another Colombian terrorist organization, a violent right-wing paramilitary group named Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense of Colombia) or the "AUC." In the U.S. Justice Department's Factual Proffer to the Court in conjunction with Chiquita's plea agreement, the Justice Department stated that it could prove Chiquita made similar payments to FARC from 1989 through 1997. Both FARC and the AUC have been officially designated by the U.S. State Department as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations" in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Chiquita ultimately agreed to pay a $25 million fine to the U.S. Government as part of its guilty plea, and recently announced its intention to settle a stockholder's derivative action lawsuit arising out of the illegal payments to the Foreign Terrorist Organizations.