CINCINNATI (TDB) -- U.S. Attorney General Albert R. Gonzales appears contradicted by Chiquita Brands International Inc.'s Chairman and CEO Fernando Aguirre, who described the banana company's dealings with federal officials as a " four year dialogue" before it pleaded guilty to paying protection money to right-wing terrorists in Colombia.
Gonzales told Congress in May that the Cincinnati-based company's prosecution resulted from a national security investigative apparatus working "tirelessly to pursue terrorists."
Aguirre's version looks closer to the truth. There was a long delay between the time Chiquita told the government it was consorting with the South American rightists and the eventual criminal charges. The delay clearly allowed time for a "dialogue." But what was said between the offender and the agency responsible for bringing it to justice? No one knows. And that begs another question: Do other crooks "dialogue" in terrorist cases? Or did Chiquita have connections?
Gonzales in May gave the House Judiciary Committee a lengthy written statement that discussed what he called the "important role that the new National Security Division (NSD) has played since it was established." He outlined several criminal cases and included Chiquita among them:
"In just the past few months we have announced noteworthy arrests and prosecutions, such as those of Hassan Abujihaad, a former United States Navy seaman accused of providing information on United States naval battle groud movements to terrorist supporters, and Daniel Maldonado, accused of fighting alongside extremist Islamic fighters in Somalia. We also have announced guilty pleas from individuals such as Tarik Shah, a former martial arts instructor from the Bronx who pleaded guilty to conspiring to support al Qaeda. Further, following a joint U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Commerce investigation, corporations such as Chiquita Brands, which made sizable illegal payments to a terrorist organization, have learned that they are not immune from criminal prosecution."
His full statement is still available on the Justice Department's website.
Chiquita CEO Aguirre wrote a piece for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's business civic leadership center in April that said the Ohio company voluntarily turned itself in and then spent four years talking to the government about its fate -- the "dialogue." Aguirre said Chiquita might never have been caught if it hadn't gone to the Justice Department in the first place.
"So the company decided to do what we believe any responsible citizen should do under the circumstances. We went to the U.S. Department of Justice and voluntarily disclosed the facts and the predicament. the U.S. government had no knowledge of the payments and, and we not come forward ourselves, it is entirely possible that the payments would have remained unknown to American authorities to this day.
"The meeting with the DOJ began a four-year dialogue that culminated with the company pleading guilty to one count of violating statutes in connection with all payments made by its former subsidiary to entities affiliated with right-wing paramilitaries from 2001 to 2004."
Aguirre's account of the "dialogue" with Gonzales' tireless anti-terror operatives is still online in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce e-newsletter.
So far, the Ohio press has been remarkably restrained in its coverage of the Gonzales-led Justice Department's activities. Perhaps things will change.