Fresh Del Monte Produce
Files Suit Against Eastbrook Companies
Charging a Conspiracy to Extort Money
CORAL GABLES, Fla., March 19, 2003 -- Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. (NYSE:FDP) today announced that it has filed a lawsuit against Eastbrook Caribe, A.V.V., and two associated companies, which together have ties to Carlos Cabal Peniche, who until recently, was a Mexican fugitive from justice. The lawsuit seeks actual and compensatory damages in excess of $620 million, in addition to special and punitive damages.
The lawsuit, filed today in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in New York City, charges that the Eastbrook companies, acting in concert with other persons, conspired in attacking Fresh Del Monte through a series of actions - including filing baseless lawsuits, instituting inflammatory campaigns in the press to cast doubt on the validity of the 1996 acquisition of the predecessor company, and strategically placing misleading information with analysts and journalists.
The lawsuit is being brought by Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., one of its subsidiaries, and the IAT Group Inc., a privately-owned holding company, which owns nearly half of Fresh Del Monte's shares. Defendants are three Eastbrook companies: Eastbrook Caribe, A.V.V., Eastbrook, Inc. and Eastbrook Limited.
The lawsuit charges a conspiracy among the Eastbrook companies, and co-conspirators -including Cabal, Edgardo Valencia, as well as a group of individuals and one corporation claiming to be former indirect shareholders, who filed a lawsuit on December 18, 2002 against the Company and others in Miami-Dade County, Florida; BB&T Corporation; and Heather Jones, an analyst for BB&T Capital Markets.
All these actions, the lawsuit charges, were aimed at lowering the market value of Fresh Del Monte's stock and tarnishing its reputation in the hopes of extorting money from the Company. Now that the current management have built Fresh Del Monte into a substantially larger and profitable business, Eastbrook is seeking to obtain a portion of its increased worth, to which it simply has no right, the suit notes.
Further, the lawsuit charges that the plaintiffs in the suit and the Eastbrook companies entered into an agreement on November 18, 1996, which "resolved all of Eastbrook's claims" based on its interests in Fresh Del Monte's predecessor company. In the agreement, Eastbrook agreed to terminate the litigation it had begun regarding the 1996 acquisition, and to release "certain claims and indemnify certain parties involved in the 1996 acquisition" of Fresh Del Monte from its Mexican owners against any damages incurred.
In a related matter, yesterday, Fresh Del Monte requested a clarification from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in light of continuing speculation and reports suggesting that the Company has been subject to a preliminary inquiry by the SEC. In response, the SEC staff advised Fresh Del Monte that the staff has been in contact with third parties concerning matters related to the Company. The Company is unaware of the substance of those contacts.
Fresh Del Monte is a leading vertically integrated producer and marketer of high quality fresh and fresh-cut produce. The Company's primary products include bananas, pineapples, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, grapes, citrus, apples, pears, peaches, plums and plantains. The Company markets its products worldwide under the DEL MONTE(R) brand, a symbol of product quality and reliability since 1892.
This release and other press releases are available on the Company's web site, http://www.freshdelmonte.com/
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