(Nov. 16) Chiquita’s legal woes stemming from its payments to a Colombian terrorist group continue to mount.

New York-based attorney Jonathan Reiter filed a $7.9 billion civil lawsuit against Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. on Nov. 14 in New York on behalf of 393 victims and their families.

Chiquita released a statement Nov. 15 reiterating its stance that the company made payments to the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia “to protect the lives of our employees and their families. The information from these attorneys grossly mischaracterized the payments made by Chiquita in Colombia.”

The lawsuit, however, alleges that Chiquita conspired with the AUC.

“I believe that the evidence will show that Chiquita was involved in actively aiding and abetting the AUC with more than just money,” Reiter said. “For example, it is documented in an (Organization of American States) report and other sources that Chiquita facilitated the delivery of 3,000 AK47 assault rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition to the AUC through its port facilities in Turbo. Under established principles of law, when you put weapons into the hands of known terrorists, you are responsible for their bad acts.”

Chiquita finalized a plea agreement and a $25 million fine with the Department of Justice in March. Court documents from that case indicated that Chiquita’s former Banadex subsidiary in Colombia made more than 100 payments totaling more than $1.7 million to the AUC from 1997 to 2004. The U.S. designated the AUC a terrorist group in September 2001, but Chiquita made 50 more payments worth more than $825,000 before stopping in February 2004.

The civil suit filed by Reiter seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages for each victim represented. Reiter said the $20 million-per-victim figure is based on the $2.7 billion settlement Libya paid to the families of 270 victims killed in 1988 when Pam Am Flight 103 was blown up over Scotland.

Reiter said similar cases are pending against Chiquita in Florida, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Attorney Paul Wolf has said damages for the 173 victims in the Washington, D.C., case could reach more than $1 billion.