Overlooked in the furor that followed when The Cincinnati Enquirer apologized last month for a stinging series accusing Chiquita Brands International of engaging in corruption were the extraordinary accusations at the heart of the series - the questionable business practices of a major corporation with broad influence in the United States and across Latin America.
In their first lengthy interviews on the subject, top Chiquita executives claimed total victory and portrayed the entire package of articles as unfair and inaccurate, the untrustworthy work of a reporter who stole hundreds of voice-mail messages.But interviews with government officials, people outside the company, and some of those quoted, along with a review of the articles, found that some of the accusations cannot be dismissed so easily, despite the questions raised about the methods used to report them.
The Securities and Exchange Commission had already initiated an inquiry into Chiquita's practices on the basis of some of the stolen voice-mail messages, and the government of Honduras, where Chiquita has been a power for decades, said it was reviewing some of the charges raised by the series, ranging from bribery of foreign officials to the use of dangerous pesticides at some of the company's sites.
Chiquita could face penalties under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if it engaged in or failed to disclose bribery.
The publisher and editor of the newspaper, which paid more than $10 million to Chiquita, refused to discuss the articles, citing a confidentiality agreement with Chiquita. Mike Gallagher, the reporter who wrote the articles, did not respond to messages. Neither did his lawyer.