Banana company Chiquita Brands International admitted in federal court Monday that, for years, it paid terrorists to protect its Colombian banana-growing operations.
The company pleaded guilty to one count of doing business with a terrorist organization. The plea is part of a deal with prosecutors that calls for a $25 million fine.
The agreement ends a lengthy Justice Department investigation into the company's financial dealings with right-wing paramilitaries and leftist rebels the U.S. government deems terrorist groups.
Prosecutors say the Cincinnati-based company and several unnamed high-ranking corporate officers agreed to pay about $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials.
The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia's civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country's cocaine exports. The U.S. government designated the right-wing militia a terrorist organization in September 2001.
Prosecutors said the company made the payments in exchange for protection for its workers. In addition to paying the AUC, prosecutors said, Chiquita made payments to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as control of the company's banana-growing area shifted.
Chiquita stock has risen sharply since the deal was announced last week. Company shares were trading down 6 cents at $13.46 in midmorning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.