(July 28) CORAL GABLES, Fla. — A Florida circuit court judge decided July 22 to allow a lawsuit against Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. to go forward.

The suit, filed Dec. 18, alleges fraud in the 1996 sale of the company to IAT Group.

Coral Gables-based fruit and vegetable supplier Del Monte wanted the case dismissed on grounds that the plaintiffs, a group of Mexican investors, did not have the proper standing with the court to bring such a claim.

A shareholder suit should have been filed because the plaintiffs are investors, Fresh Del Monte claimed.

The investors claimed that they had a right to file a direct action because an unfair merger occurred through what they allege was bribery, fraud and unfair dealing.

Miami Dade County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Rothenberg denied Fresh Del Monte’s motion on grounds that the court may consider claims in the original complaint.

Rothenberg did grant Fresh Del Monte’s motion to dismiss a securities fraud claim in the lawsuit on the grounds that too much time had passed from the time of the alleged violation.

In their suit, the investors accuse Fresh Del Monte’s current majority shareholder, IAT Group, of paying a bribe that enabled IAT to buy the company’s assets at below its market — for $120 million — despite there being higher bids in an auction.

Fresh Del Monte said it acquired the company legitimately after its owner, Carlos Cabal Peniche, of Mexico, fled his country after his banking empire fell apart. The Mexican government took control of Fresh Del Monte, then sold it to Chilean investor firm IAT Group, controlled by Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, the company’s current chief executive officer.