Suriname threatens to sue Belgian fruit company

Suriname threatens to sue Belgian fruit company
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The government of Suriname, the former Dutch colony in South America, is threatening legal action against The Fruit Farm Group, a company owned by Belgian industrialist Hein Deprez.

The Fruit Farm Group had until recently a banana plantation in Suriname, but recently pulled out leaving the plantation untended. Company staff who are not local have left the country, De Tijd reports, and staff were paid up to the end of January.

The Fruit Farm Group is a property of Deprez, who is also the owner closer to home of Greenyard, one of the world’s largest suppliers of fruit and vegetables, based in Sint-Katelijne-Waver in Antwerp province.

The company offered to sell the plantation to the Suriname government for a token one dollar, but those discussions did not go far. “We were involved in constructive talks, but it is much too soon to discuss a take-over,” said Kris Onghena, financial director of The Fruit Farm Group.

The company has been suffering losses for years and is loaded down with debt. Since November, it has not had enough money to export the bananas it produces. “We had to destroy some,” Onghena said.

But he denied local media reports that the company has somehow misused around €1.2 million. Staff were paid off with the help of the Suriname government, he said.

The Suriname government owns 10% of the company’s shares. The remainder were bought by Deprez in 2014 for $32 million. Last year a Dutch subsidiary declared bankruptcy, and the previous year The Fruit Farm Group made losses of €25 million on sales of €105 million.

The Suriname agriculture minister has now threatened legal action, after the company explained its departure was due to “the unclear financial and economic situation of Suriname, which in recent years has only worsened.” The governor of the country’s national bank this month resigned, amid allegations of financial irregularities.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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