The court case against three German cement producers for damages as a result of an illegal cartel, originally launched last August, has now been extended to cover all of the six leading cement groups in the country and the amount of the claim has risen from €136m to €210m. The six companies involved, HeidelbergCement, Dyckerhoff, Schwenk, Cemex, Holcim and Lafarge, were fined a total of €661m by the German Cartel Office in 2003, but because of appeals, most of these fines have yet to become effective.
Cartel Damage Claims SA, a Belgian company closely associated with the German firm of solicitors Messrs. Oppenländer of Stuttgart, has acquired the claims of a number of medium sized cement customers and is suing the cement groups in the district court of Düsseldorf. A date for the initial oral proceedings has been set for the 31st of May. The case is likely to drag on for a considerable period and the eventual judgement will set a precedent in respect of both the new German cartel law and the principle of joint claims. The judgement will thus have an effect reaching well beyond the cement industry and, if the claim is not rejected, almost certain to go to appeal. The final outcome could thus be years into the future.
It is to date unclear under the new law to what extent the victims of a cartel have to prove the extent of damage suffered. The cement producers argue that the litigants will have to prove the existence of a cement cartel across the whole of Germany in order to succeed and are involving the smaller family-owned German cement companies in their defence in order to strengthen their argument that this was never the case. A spokesman for HeidelbergCement argues that the claim is without foundation, while the manager of Holcim’s German operations says that there are no indications to suggest that a German-wide cartel existed.