Suriname threatens to sue Belgian fruit company

The government of Suriname is threatening legal action against The Fruit Farm Group, a company owned by Belgian industrialist, Hein Deprez.

Suriname has threated legal action against The Fruit Company. (Photo: usf.com)

The Fruit Farm Group up until recently had a banana plantation in Suriname, the former Dutch colony in South America bordering the Eastern Caribbean. However, the Farm Fruit Group recently pulled out of Suriname, leaving the plantation untended.

Company staffers, who are not local have reportedly left the country. It has been further reported that staffers were paid up to the end of January.

The Suriname-based fruit company has been making losses for years and is groaning under debt. Since November, there is not enough money to export all bananas.

“We had to destroy it. But it is not true that we missed out on 1.2 million euros, as local media write.”

– Kris Onghena, financial director of The Fruit Farm Group. ”

The Fruit Farm Group is a property of Deprez, who is also the owner of Greenyard, one of the world’s largest suppliers of fruit and vegetables, based in Sint-Katelijne-Waver in Antwerp province of Belgium. 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,” the financial director further explains. 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 states in explaining the grave situation the company has found itself in.

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

The Suriname government owns 10 per cent 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.

The Fruit Farm Group (Photo: The Fruit Farm Group)

The Fruit Farm Group was created at the end of 2014 by the shareholders of UNIVEG (now GREENYARD). Its objective was to provide a number of UNIVEG companies with farming, packaging and export activities; the financial means to unlock their full potential.

The Fruit Farm Group’s operations are geographically spread over seven countries and three continents, and have a diversified product portfolio. They are currently growing some of the most sought-after fruit varieties and benefit from guaranteed market access through a sales, marketing and distribution agreement with GREENYARD – a global market leader of fresh, frozen and prepared fruit and vegetables, flowers, plants, and growing media.

All operations have significant improvement and expansion potential, which will lead to incremental output and improved profitability.