Coca-Cola and terrorism -- who'd have thought those words would be in the same sentence?
And yet the Atlanta-based soft drink giant is accused of paying off a now-defunct paramilitary unit in Colombia that was added to the list of terrorist groups by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, according to reports.
The Coca-Cola company, which has interests in Colombia, was accused of hiring assassins from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia between 1990 and 2002, Latin American news network Telesur reported.
The details, which have emerged as the Colombian government works out a peace deal with remnants of guerilla groups, include accusations that the Coca-Cola company paid off hitmen to kill at least 10 labor leaders who were trying to organize unions, Telesur said.
According to Democracy Now, Coca-Cola isn't the only company in the hot seat -- more than 50 corporations are accused of financing the group, known by the acronym AUC, during a half-century of fighting between Colombia's government, leftist guerillas, and far-right paramilitary groups.
The latter "emerged in the 1980s as self-defense groups to defend the private property of large landowners from groups" that would kidnap wealthy Colombians and hold them for ransom, according to the Colombia-based, English-language news site Colombia Reports.
Some of those groups went further, Colombia Reports said, and began targeting union leaders, human rights activists, and "leftist thought leaders."
Coca-Cola and other defendants are expected to face charges in a Colombian justice tribunal after the Colombian government inks a peace deal with the country's largest guerilla group.
Families of the victims of guerilla and paramilitary violence in Colombia sued the U.S. banana brand Chiquita, but that lawsuit was dismissed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the case was outside U.S. jurisdiction.
Chiquita, which owned more than 200 banana farms in Colombia, claimed it was the victim of extortion by paramilitary groups, according to CNN. But the company settled a separate lawsuit in 2007, paying a $25 million fine to the U.S. government for making payments to the AUC.
Chiquita did not dispute paying $1.7 million to the Colombian paramilitary group, Agence France Press reported, but argued that it did not owe restitution to some 4,000 Colombians whose family members were killed by the AUC.
Coca-Cola hasn't responded publicly to the accusations. The company's website touts its programs supporting women entrepreneurs as "economic empowerment" and environmental efforts, but does not mention the pending tribunal in Colombia.
Coca-Cola also made headlines on Sept. 1 when authorities in Southern France discovered more than 800 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $56 million in a Coca-Cola factory, TIME magazine reported. The cocaine was hidden in an orange juice shipment sent from Costa Rica. A spokesman for Coca-Cola said company employees immediately contacted police after discovering the drug shipment.