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Chiquita Brands Sues SEC to Probe Documents’ Release

Chiquita Brands International Inc. sued the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to block disclosure of documents from a probe of payments to a Colombian paramilitary group, saying their release would subject the company to unfair criticism.

Chiquita, in a lawsuit filed today in federal court in Washington, said the SEC hasn’t properly assessed documents it turned over to the government during the investigation of payments made through its former Banadex unit to the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. The documents were sought under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

Disclosure of the documents “will make them available to the general public, including members of the press and individuals and organizations that seek to distort the facts surrounding the payments that Banadex made to the AUC under threat of force,” Chiquita’s lawyer, James Garland of Covington & Burling LLC, said in the complaint.

The Cincinnati-based company 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. The company is defending multiple civil lawsuits in federal court in Florida brought by families who claim relatives were kidnapped and murdered after the company paid the group.

Chiquita, in its lawsuit, alleges the National Security Archive is allied with plaintiff lawyers in the Florida litigation and seeks to influence those proceedings as well as a criminal investigation of former employees in Colombia.

John Nester, an SEC spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Thomas Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, said his group has been making data requests about Colombia human rights violations for about 14 years and will continue to do so.

“There’s a lot of other interest in these materials than a simple tort case in Florida,” he said.

The case is Chiquita Brands International Inc. v. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, 13-cv-00435, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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