Thursday, August 02, 2007

This is why it matters

The Wall Street Journal has a front-page story today about the Justice Department's prosecution of Chiquita for its payments to Colombian terrorists for seven years beginning in 1997. I can't provide a link because a subscription is required. Here is the top of the story:
In April 2003 Roderick M. Hills, then-head of Chiquita Brands International Inc.'s audit committee, went to the Department of Justice with other Chiquita representatives with a stunning admission: The company had been making illegal payments to a violent Colombian group that the U.S. branded as terrorists.In years past, the admission might have been enough to get Chiquita off the hook. Companies and their executives who reported wrongdoing and agreed to cooperate often have enjoyed lenient treatment. Many received a "deferred prosecution" in which no charges were filed unless they committed additional crimes.

But things didn't work out that way for Chiquita -- or for Mr. Hills and some colleagues. In March of this year, Chiquita pled guilty to engaging in transactions with a terrorist group and agreed to pay $25 million in fines, the first time a major U.S. company was charged with having financial dealings with terrorists. Now Mr. Hills, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, faces the possibility of personal criminal charges. A federal grand jury is looking at his role, and that of other high company officials, in continuing the company payments for almost another year after the meeting with the Justice Department.

The investigation illustrates the recent posture taken by U.S. authorities to prosecute aggressively even when companies turn themselves in for breaking the law. Critics say that strategy could cause difficulties if companies decide they suffer no worse by waiting to get caught. "This case will make companies think twice about self-reporting," says Stetson University law professor Ellen Podgor.

Mr. Hills's lawyer, Reid Weingarten, and lawyers for four other individuals, including former Chiquita chief executive Cyrus Freidheim Jr. and former general counsel Robert Olson, submitted legal memos to federal prosecutors last month arguing why their clients shouldn't be charged with terrorism-related crimes. "That Rod Hills would find himself under investigation for a crime he himself reported is absurd," says Mr. Weingarten. Mr. Hills declined to comment.

The case may turn partly on how friendly a treatment Chiquita officials thought they were getting from U.S. authorities. A paramilitary organization had threatened to kidnap or kill employees on the banana farms of Chiquita's Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, and Chiquita was concerned that its employees could be harmed if it cut the payments immediately. Lawyers familiar with the case say Mr. Hills and Mr. Olson believed senior Justice Department officials understood this and were deferring any demand to stop the payments to the United Self-Defense Forces, known by its Spanish abbreviation AUC. Chiquita ultimately paid $1.7 million over seven years.

The Justice Department denies it gave Chiquita -- the world's largest banana company, with $4.5 billion in sales last year -- any leeway to keep paying. Meanwhile, the case has become something of a political football, with congressional Democrats pledging further investigation into U.S. companies underwriting violence abroad and the toughness of U.S. enforcement.

The Journal did a lot of original reporting -- reviewing court documents, interviewing current and former Chiquita officials. Carl Lindner, who was chairman of Chiquita when the payments began, is not mentions, but the story says Chiquita officials may face prosecution individually.

The Enquirer hasn't written about this since March. The cutbacks on the reporting staff are killing coverage, and the news is getting shallower. The coverage has shifted to a TV news formula of crime, traffic accidents and fires. This has dominated the Enquirer's front page 36 times in the 63 days since June 1. There have been front page stories about Iraq just 12 times since June 1, and only eight of those stories have involved the situation on the ground in Iraq. Over that time, 182 Americans have died in Iraq. Wednesday morning's front page story on Iraq was the first in 13 days. Even on the days we don't get crimes, fires and accidents, we get Harry Potter, the Creation Museum, a high school band raffle and sports news.

The Enquirer has laid down on covering Chiquita. Can you imagine what else we're missing because of the Enquirer's inadequacy?


Anonymous mr. whig said...

I'm sure they're chasing down the status of every bridge today on the one-in-a-million chance one might have a popped rivet or something.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably riding with commuters to feel (and hype) their fear. Don't forget to get the video of the Brent Spence NOT falling into the Ohio.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But if they wait around long enough, they might get a photo of an Enquirer ad salesperson or circulation manager diving off.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude. They're scared as hell of Chiquita. They got MAD ghosts in that back corner office by Sports.

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are correct. The Enquirer is little more than a crime blotter now.
And since that is the case, why do you suppose they stopped a running tally of how many murders each new homicide adds? Remember when they used to do that? Wonder who gave the directive to stop.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks bad when most of the killings are in ethnic neighborhoods, or neighborhoods where the Enquirer shamelessly whores for condo developers. The latter is a well-established, almost inexplicable pattern.

8:25 AM  
Blogger ThatDeborahGirl said...

And since that is the case, why do you suppose they stopped a running tally of how many murders each new homicide adds? Remember when they used to do that? Wonder who gave the directive to stop.

It's not a matter of who or when but why. Seems to me that the last few local murders have been among white folks.

Nothing to fear there. It's only scary when it's "black on black" crime.

Gosh I hate our local news.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear That DG
There was no directive.
Not everyone at the Enquirer has or knows where to find the master list of homicides from 2006. For the record, 41 so far this year, 53 last year.
And your wrong about the skin color of the lastest victims.
Sorry to bust your theory.

11:04 AM  

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