North Rhine-Westphalia: Cartel lawsuit: forest farmers criticize possible joint liability

If the state of North Rhine-Westphalia loses a cartel dispute with sawmills, this could cost millions of euros in damages.

North Rhine-Westphalia: Cartel lawsuit: forest farmers criticize possible joint liability

If the state of North Rhine-Westphalia loses a cartel dispute with sawmills, this could cost millions of euros in damages. Because the state marketed a lot of wood from forest owners and municipalities at the time, they should participate if necessary. The forest farmers association is outraged.

Düsseldorf (dpa / lnw) - The forest farmers' association of North Rhine-Westphalia has sharply criticized the decision of the state government to hold around 800 forest owners jointly liable in the case of the multi-million dollar cartel lawsuit by sawmills. The association announced on Thursday in Düsseldorf that the forest owners had used the marketing opportunities for wood sales provided for by state law for decades. This distribution channel was recommended by the state forest administration.

It was always assured that this joint timber marketing was legally compliant. "Possible claims for damages from the plaintiff sawmills must therefore be borne solely by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia," said the association's chairman, Philipp Freiherr Heereman, according to the announcement. The so-called notice of dispute is a "slap in the face" against the forest owners and the voluntary associations, which have always trusted in the recommendations of the state foresters. The association called for the decision to be withdrawn.

In protest against the decision, Heereman resigned as chairman of the highest forestry committee in North Rhine-Westphalia with immediate effect. Several forest interest groups are represented in this body. It advises the state forest administration on all important decisions.

The cartel dispute is about joint timber marketing practiced until the end of 2019. The country not only sold its own wood, but also wood from local authorities and private owners. In April 2020, the sawmills filed an antitrust lawsuit for damages with the Dortmund District Court because of allegedly excessive wood prices (Az. 8 O 7/2020). According to the ministry, they claim damage of around 187 million euros. The country considers this to be unfounded. Similar lawsuits have also been filed in other federal states. Years of proceedings through all instances are expected.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced on Tuesday that it had initiated a so-called third-party notice in the process. In this way, previously uninvolved third parties are included in the process and can be taken into recourse in the event of a defeat.

The ministry had described the third-party notice as a "usual procedural precautionary measure", which one is obliged to do due to the state budgetary regulations. A total of around 17,000 forest owners participated in the marketing. In order to reduce the scope, the third party notices were limited to around 800 larger companies. Among the 800 are also 67 municipalities.

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