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Chiquita quiet on plans for Charlotte headquarters after sale

Chiquita Brands International stayed quiet Wednesday about its future in Charlotte, after completing its buyout and becoming a subsidiary of two Brazilian companies Tuesday.

The company declined to make interim CEO Brian Kocher available for an interview. He assumed the role after the buyout by orange juice-maker Cutrale and banking group Safra. The buyout came after shareholders rejected a proposed merger with Irish produce company Fyffes first announced in March.

Chiquita was lured to Charlotte from Cincinnati in 2011, in part with the promise of about $22 million worth of state and local incentives. The banana company put its logo atop the NASCAR Plaza office tower, where it employs more than 300 workers.

A Charlotte-based spokesman on Wednesday referred questions to outside spokespeople in New York. In response to written questions, a spokeswoman said “it is premature to comment on Charlotte,” but didn’t elaborate.

One condition of Chiquita’s incentives deal required the company to keep its global headquarters in Charlotte for 10 years. Local officials have said they are still considering what to do about the company’s acquisition and waiting to see what Chiquita does with its local facilities.

Cutrale and Safra paid $14.50 a share to acquire Chiquita, a deal they valued at $1.3 billion, including the assumption of Chiquita’s debt. Securities filings showed that’s leading to big payoffs for top executives and directors who held stock.

Former CEO Ed Lonergan, who joined the company in 2012, is due to receive $15.4 million after a change in control and his departure, according to securities filings. Most of that is in the form of an accelerated payout for $13.5 million worth of stock and options held by Lonergan.

Chief financial officer Rick Frier, who Chiquita said is also leaving the company, is due almost $4.8 million.

Documents filed Wednesday show how much several directors of the company made upon selling their stock to Cutrale and Safra at $14.50 a share. Director Ronald Waters received about $163,000; Steven Stanbrook $1.6 million; Jeffrey Simmons $411,000; Clare Hasler-Lewis $1 million; Howard Barker Jr. $1.2 million; and chairwoman Kerrii Anderson $961,000.

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