WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. federal prosecutors are taking a closer look at illegal "protection" payments made by high-ranking officials at Chiquita International Brands.
The Washington Post said Chiquita board member Roderick M. Hills four years ago disclosed to his former law school colleague Michael Chertoff his company was paying off a Colombian paramilitary group, thereby breaking U.S. anti-terrorism laws.
However, Hills said the company would have to pull out of the country if it could not keep paying to secure its Colombian banana plantations.
Chertoff, then assistant attorney general and now secretary of homeland security, confirmed the payments were illegal and promised to get back to Hills after conferring with national security advisers and the State Department about what could happen to U.S. interests if the corporate giant pulled out.
But sources close to Chiquita said Chertoff never got back to the company or its lawyers, nor did his successor, Larry D. Thompson.
As a result, Chiquita kept making payments for nearly another year.
Federal prosecutors, however, are now weighing whether to charge Hills; Robert Olson, who was then Chiquita's general counsel; former Chiquita CEO Cyrus Friedheim, and other former company officials for approving the illegal payments, the Post said.