US farmers ready to launch $1.5b lawsuit against AWB

LOS ANGELES - A potential US$1 billion-plus class action lawsuit by American farmers against the AWB will likely be filed in the US in coming weeks, the US lawyer leading the case said today.

If the lawsuit is successful, all farmers in the US hurt by the Australian wheat exporter’s illegal dealings with Saddam Hussein’s former Iraqi government could be compensated.

L Palmer Foret, a Washington DC-based lawyer, said the damages could exceed US$1 billion ($1.47 billion).

The legal move followed the release of this week’s damning Cole Commission report into the AWB’s corrupt payments of A$290 million ($337.28) million in kickbacks to the Hussein regime.

Foret said he has examined the Cole report and described it as “very helpful” for the class-action lawsuit.

“It’s got a wealth of information in it,” Foret told AAP today.

The lawsuit was originally filed in the US Federal Court in Washington DC earlier this year, but Foret said it was withdrawn so the legal team could examine the Cole report.

“Quite frankly we knew the Cole Commission report was coming out and even though I think we knew what it was going to say, we wanted to see that,” he said.

“The lawsuit will be re-filed, I hope, by the end of the year.”

The lawsuit originally represented six farmers from Kansas and Virginia, but the legal team requested it be certified a class-action suit so that all US farmers who lost money be compensated.

The suit did not request a specific dollar figure in damages if successful, but Foret said it could exceed US$1 billion.

“All the wheat farmers in the US, and probably other countries too for that matter, they all lost business under the UN program that the AWB got as a result of their illegal activities,” Foret said.

“There is no doubt there was criminal activity ongoing by the AWB with the payment of the money to the Iraqi government as a result they got practically an exclusive marketing right,”

The lawsuit is just one adverse reaction in the US to the release of the Cole report, with US politicians calling for fresh investigations into the AWB scandal.

Foret congratulated the Cole Commission on its report.

“Obviously it’s an excellent report,” the lawyer said.

“Commissioner Cole did an excellent job and basically says what the AWB was up to.”

- AAP

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