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Colombian leader favors extraditing Chiquita execs

Story Highlights

• Country's president says anyone charged should be extradited
• Chiquita admits paying millions in protection money to death squads
• Banana company agrees to pay $25 million in fines
• Colombia also looking into 2001 smuggling of weapons through port
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BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Saturday he favored the extradition to his country of executives of U.S. banana producer Chiquita after the company's admission that it paid Colombian right-wing death squads more than $1.7 million.

"That would be normal. Extradition should be from here to there and from there to here," Uribe said.

Colombia's attorney general said he would ask the U.S. Department of Justice for full disclosure about the case and would investigate possible links to another case from 2001. In that case, weapons and ammunition were smuggled into Colombia through a port facility operated by Chiquita's Colombian subsidiary, Banadex.

The Justice Department alleges Banadex paid protection money to Communist guerrilla groups, namely the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), between 1989 and 1997.

Chiquita began paying the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an extreme right-wing militia, after a 1997 meeting between a top Banadex official and AUC head Carlos Castano, according to court papers.

Chiquita Brands International CEO Fernando Aguirre acknowledged last week that the former subsidiary "had been forced to make payments to right- and left-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia to protect the lives of its employees."

Chiquita has agreed to pay the Justice Department $25 million in fines over those payments. Another hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Details and amounts of money Chiquita paid to the guerrillas were not disclosed. But the Justice Department said Chiquita made at least 100 direct and indirect payments totaling at least $1.7 million to the AUC between 1997 and 2004.

Colombian authorities outlawed right-wing paramilitary forces in 1989. The U.S. State Department added the AUC to its list of foreign terrorist groups in September 2001.

In November 2001, Israeli arms dealers illegally shipped 3,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 2.5 million rounds of ammunition into Colombia for the AUC through a port facility operated by Chiquita subsidiary Banadex.

Chiquita was not charged in that incident.

In a statement sent to CNN on Friday, Chiquita said: "The issues [of the payments to the AUC and the contraband weapons] are unrelated."

But in a statement issued Friday, Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran said he would ask U.S. officials for information about the smuggling case.

The AUC and affiliated death squads have killed thousands of union activists, leftist politicians and civilians suspected of being leftist sympathizers in and around the banana-growing regions where Chiquita operated.

Chiquita sold Banadex in 2004. But according to the main Colombian banana workers' union SINTRAINAGRO, Chiquita still buys more than 3 million 45-pound boxes of bananas each week from plantations in the Uraba and Magdalena regions.


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