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Chiquita Sued in U.S. by Family of Slain Terror Victim

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March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Chiquita Brands International Inc., owner of the namesake banana label, is facing a second lawsuit accusing the company of helping Marxist rebels in Colombia who kidnapped and murdered an American geologist.

Jane Pescatore Sparrow’s estate, in a complaint filed today in federal court in Washington, alleges the company aided and abetted in the murder of her brother and provided material support and resources to terrorists. Chiquita paid the FARC guerilla group for protection and supplied it with weapons from 1989 to 1997, according to the complaint. FARC is the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

“This material support included funds, weapons, and other critical support that enabled and facilitated FARC’s ability to maintain an ongoing terror campaign against American and Colombian interests and which resulted in the kidnapping and murder of Frank Thomas Pescatore Jr.,” according to the complaint.

Chiquita is also being sued in Florida by the family of five American missionaries who were murdered in Colombia. The Florida case was the first under a 1992 law allowing Americans to sue U.S. firms over terrorism-related deaths abroad. The missionaries were kidnapped in 1993 and 1994 and later killed by the FARC, which the U.S. government designated a terrorist organization, the families said in their complaint.

Ed Loyd, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Chiquita, said in an e-mail that the company hasn’t been served with the lawsuit by Sparrow’s estate.

‘Makes No Sense’

The company and its employees were targets of FARC and holding Chiquita responsible for the group’s crimes “makes no sense,” Loyd said. “Chiquita is confident that these malicious lawsuits will be proven baseless” once the court looks at the evidence, he said.

Chiquita was fined $25 million after pleading guilty in March 2007 to engaging in transactions with a terrorist group for paying Colombian paramilitary militias $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004. Chiquita made payments to both leftist and rightist groups while operating in Colombia, according to charging documents in that case.

At least 10 other related lawsuits have been filed against Chiquita, Loyd said.

Those cases included one filed in 2009 by other family members of Pescatore. Today’s complaint was filed on behalf of Sparrow’s estate by her husband. Jane Sparrow died in 2005.

Four were filed on behalf of about 600 Colombian FARC victims seeking at least $11.8 billion in damages. Those cases were consolidated in Miami. A related suit by shareholders was settled in January.

“The truth is that Chiquita was extorted by left- and right-wing armed groups in Colombia, including the FARC, and Chiquita paid out of a well-grounded fear of retaliation against its employees if the company refused,” Loyd said.

The case is Sparrow v. Chiquita Brands International Inc., 11-cv-00502, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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