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The Fur Trade Today - 08/01/06

Published 08/01/06

The class-action suit brought by mink ranchers against five New York brokerages gained momentum last week when one of the defendants agreed to cooperate, stoking a fire that has been smoldering since the Justice Dept. launched its bid-rigging probe two years ago, which has already resulted in one indictment. The latest development in the ranchers’ civil case also touched off speculation that the broker’s cooperation — including the furnishing of information regarding dealings between him and other defendants — would add the necessary fuel to enable the Justice Dept. to proceed with its federal criminal case on an even wider basis, possibly with international ramifications.

The ranchers’ complaint, filed earlier this year, alleged conspiracy to fix, raise, maintain or stabilize prices for furs purchased at auction in the United States. The firms charged were Alaska Brokerage International, Global Mink Corp., Mechutan Fur Corp., Klondike International Furs, Delta Trading Corp. and David Karsch, former vice-president of Alaska. In the agreement announced last week, subject to approval by the court, Global agreed to identify dates, times, locations and participants in communications among competitors and to provide all information known to him regarding the conduct of the named defendants as well as unnamed co-conspirators. In return for his cooperation, the action against the firm and its president, Lou Greenberg, would be dismissed without costs. Reached at his office, Greenberg declined to comment at this time.

Both the civil suit and the government’s criminal case are based on federal anti-trust laws prohibiting conspiracy in restraint of trade or price-fixing. The federal action so far has resulted in the indictment of Karsch, who subsequently pleaded guilty to a one-count charge (SPR, 05/29/06) that he and Alaska and other co-conspirators engaged in a conspiracy to rig bids for otter pelts at a Fur Harvesters Auction in Seattle on 02/14/04. Sentencing was tentatively set for 09/18/06 in Seattle, but it was understood it would be postponed because Karsch is scheduled for surgery.

There have been no indications as to whether the Justice Dept. is still pursuing its investigation or has ended it with the Karsch indictment. Its policy is not to comment on any investigation. Nor would an agent comment on what implications the agreement in the class-action civil case might possibly have for the government’s investigation. Although the government had subpoenaed a wide number of American and foreign dealers, brokers and buyers when its investigators descended on an American Legend sale two years ago, none besides Karsch is known to have been pursued further.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 07/03/06

Old furs comfort the young and furry
Program collects coats and stoles

West Barnstable — The baby is snuggled into the luxurious fur coat, a fleece toy next to her, and only her golden head is visible. She has been quiet and content since she was given the lush brown sable that envelops her. The little raccoon is an orphan, her mother probably run over by a car or killed by a cat, so she’s being cared for at the Cape Wildlife Center. And the fur that’s keeping her happy came to the center courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States .

It might seem antithetical, or downright wrong, for the Humane Society to be dealing with fur, but there is a good explanation. This is a fur that has been donated to a Humane Society program called Coats for Cubs (coatsforcubs.org) that distributes coats, stoles, and jackets to wildlife rehabilitators.

“A lot of people have fur they don’t feel comfortable wearing anymore, or they have inherited fur that they don’t want to wear or sell,” says program director Andrea Cimino .

Elinor Hunter, a retired US government farm services officer, donated three furs to the program that she had bought used in the ’50s and ’60s. Since she hadn’t bought the furs new, she had felt it was OK to wear them, Hunter says on the phone from her home in Washington , D.C. “But a friend said, ‘Yes, but they’re beautiful, and when you wear them, you’re inspiring others to wear them.’” So the furs sat in Hunter’s closet for years. “And then I learned that the HSUS would take furs for little sick or lonely animals to snuggle up with.”

Source: Boston Globe, 07/04/06

Lawsuit claims DNR not protecting Canada lynx

Minneapolis — The Humane Society of the United States on Wednesday sued the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, alleging that a loosely regulated trapping program has resulted in the death or injury of at least a dozen federally threatened Canada lynx since 2002.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis contends that the DNR program that allows private trapping of fox, bobcat and other animals for fur lacks safeguards to deter or prevent accidental trapping of the lynx, which since 2000 has been on the list of federally threatened species.

“They’re just proceeding like it’s business as usual, and they have a large number of protected lynx being taken,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of animal protection litigation at the Washington-based Humane Society. “The lawsuit says this is a serious issue that the DNR can’t brush off.”

Source: The Pioneer Press,07/05/06

Namibian seal cull is ‘genocide’

Windhoek — More than 60 000 seals are being culled in Namibia, sparking an international outcry from conservation bodies and animal rights activists, which have called the hunt genocide.

The killing of 60,000 Cape fur cub seals and 7,000 bulls until November is the second largest seal harvest in the world. The largest annual harvest is in the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada, where 325,000 were culled this year.

Namibia’s fishing and marine resources ministry has justified its cull arguing the proliferation of seals poses a serious threat to the fishing industry, one of the country’s major foreign currency earners and a creator of jobs, saying the high number of seals was depleting fishing stocks.

Source: Cape Argus, 07/09/06

More bling in your own skin

When Richard Branson swanned around with a piece of (apparently fake) leopard skin over his shoulders at the Virgin Money launch last week, he tuned into a growing trend among urban fashionistas to adorn themselves with the skins of endangered species.

Branson’s representative, Tracey Meaker, insisted this week he was wearing fake fur. It was part of an over-the-top costume and stunt whose aim was to highlight how local banks were ripping off South Africans, she said.

Fake or not, conservationists are worried about a rising popularity of wildlife fur among rich suburbanites who add it to their wardrobes of bling fashion accessories. Skins are used not only in traditional ceremonial regalia, but in costumes to entertain tourists and fancy dress for social events such as weddings.

Source: Mail and Guardian (South Africa), 07/10/06

The recent disclosure that one of the defendants being sued by mink ranchers for alleged price-fixing has agreed to cooperate with the plaintiffs reverberated around the world last week. Members of the trade on three continents reacted with stunned disbelief to the news that Global Mink Corp. of New York agreed to name dates, times, locations and participants in communications among competitors in return for being released from the class action. The disbelief was not just that the firm — which completely denied the allegations — agreed to supply such information but, even more importantly, that such information actually existed.

The suit itself sent out shock waves when it was filed in January, especially since it came on the heels of an indictment by a federal grand jury of a New York broker on bid-rigging charges. The separate actions, one civil the other criminal, nevertheless have a common ground: federal anti-trust laws prohibiting conspiracy in restraint of trade and/or price-fixing. The ranchers’ case was initiated by an enterprising legal firm that specializes in class actions and was drawn by news of the Justice Dept.’s investigation. Its circularization of ranchers produced two in the state of Washington who had been out of business for several years and were willing to lend their names to the action.

But while the government’s criminal investigation in effect gave birth to the civil suit, it is the latter that some fear may give the feds reason to keep digging. The general view among trade veterans is that, regardless of what may have led to a one-count guilty plea by David Karsch in the case involving otters, there is no hard evidence of any conspiracy to rig bids on mink or, for that matter, any other furs. The prevailing belief is unchanged from what it was two years ago, when agents of the FBI swooped down and subpoenaed the records of buyers attending an American Legend auction. An immediate reaction among buyers at that time was that the DOJ was acting on complaints from unhappy ranching interests who were told by Legend officials that the previous years’ depressed prices were the result of collusion among buyers.

In fact, the suing ranchers — Jan Wanachek and Clarence Jordan — cited American Legend as their source of information about the alleged conspiracy among buyers to keep prices down. They noted that Legend delivered marketing reports at regional rancher meetings alleging collusion among buyers and/or brokers to control prices. Specifically, the class-action papers pointed out, “American Legend stated in those reports that a conspiracy among international brokers to share purchases through controlled bidding was a cause of continued depressed fur prices.”

On the other hand, when the attorneys proposed launching a class-action suit, Legend voiced its opposition. The cooperative cautioned its shippers to seriously consider the possible adverse consequences of suing their customers, noting “there has been no determination that any illegal or inappropriate actions have occurred.” The letter, signed by chairman Stan Rees, pointed out “it is just bad business to sue your customers.” That same admonition was repeated earlier this year, when the suit was filed.

Significantly, the only ranchers who signed on to the action are no longer in business. But the “class”, as defined by the suit, includes “all persons and entities who, at any time from June 1, 2000, through June 1, 2004, sold furs directly and/or at auctions in the United States or elsewhere at which any of the defendants ... brokered the purchase of and/or purchased furs.” A “class member” is defined as “each member of the settlement class who does not timely elect to be excluded from the class.” In other words, all ranchers are included unless they opt out.

At this point, the trade’s attention has shifted to Global Mink Corp. and its principal, Lou Greenberg, both of whom enjoy a solid reputation in the industry. And the questions being asked, almost rhetorically, are why did he come forward and what kind of information does he have? The merchant has declined comment at this time, but the general assumption is that the answer to the first lies in his eagerness to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. The more vexing issue is what can he possibly offer in return? According to colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, not much if anything. As to whether he has now left himself open to scrutiny by the feds, that is not considered likely since he — among dozens of others whose records were subpoenaed — is understood to have already complied.

At presstime, the proposed settlement with Global had been submitted to the U.s. District Court in Seattle for its preliminary approval. According to plaintiffs’ attorney, Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau, Pachios & Haley, that approval could take a month or more.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 07/10/06

Spring retail business in the United States was surprisingly good, according to a spot check of independent stores in the major markets. The spring months traditionally are minor contributors to the year’s volume and usually more significant as an indicator of consumer interest and a portent of what retailers may expect when the new season opens up. From that standpoint, the message they are getting is that consumers are still in a spending mood and that furs are on their minds. The cooler-than-usual spring in many parts of the country evidently sparked some late shopping, but also is believed to have encouraged impulse buying by customers bringing in their garments for summer storage. The new purchases were said to be mainly small pieces, including accessories, but also jackets and short coats.

Storage traffic also picked up nicely in June after a somewhat sluggish April-May, when consumers felt comfortable holding on to their furs. Despite the late start, furriers believe the storage-service season will be a decent one, adding nicely to their profit picture. In addition to storage, cleaning and repairs, many have been experiencing an increase in remodeling or restyling orders for existing garments. These services have become an easier sell, mainly because women are again wearing furs that had been languishing in storage vaults — or their closets — and may not have seen daylight for 10 years or more for various reasons. Those that are in excellent condition may be updated stylewise and older garments may be cut down to smaller pieces or used as linings. Either way, those jobs are usually performed in-house by the furrier or his workers at little or no cost and are extremely profitable.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 07/10/06

Clarification: Finland’s mink production this year will be more or less the same as last year’s crop. Indications that Finnish ranchers were planning a major increase were based on the observation that the breeder pelts offered in the September sale will be practically all males and almost no females. That conclusion was erroneous, since the June sale contained the females.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 07/10/06

Cat caught in trap: pet owners warned

The Taree (VRA) Rescue Squad was called to Deakin Crescent last Friday to rescue a cat from a drain but on release, squad members noticed that the cat had its leg caught in a trap.

Taree Rescue Squad public relations officer, Val Schaefer said that the act was one of great cruelty as it appeared the cat had been caught in the trap for some time, had likely gone to the drain for safety and then couldn’t get out with the trap on its leg.

“This really is a very cruel act undertaken by someone who has no respect for animals and has decided to impart pain and suffering onto the cat.”

Source: Manning River Times, 07/12/06

Anti-fur designer steps out

Don’t expect to see the front row swathed in fur this fall — at least not at this show. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has brokered an exclusive sponsorship of Project Runway season one winner Jay McCarroll for her spring 2007 collection debut at Olympus Fashion Week this September. The fur-free designer will return to the tents this season with his first independent collection, and critics will certainly be watching for his foray into mainstream fashion after leaving the Bravo mothership.

Source: Fashion Week Daily, 07/18/06

Bardot tells France: The minks or me

Brigitte Bardot, angry over what she called France’s insensitivity to the plight of minks, says she feels much closer to Sweden’s point of view — and may move there.

“To the contrary of [Greta] Garbo, who left Sweden to finish her days in the United States, perhaps I will leave France to finish my days in Sweden, since today, I feel much closer to Swedish sensitivity than to the French insensitivity,” said the former film star and animal-rights activist.

Bardot, 71, contacted the French Finance Ministry to criticize France for attacking Sweden’s proposal for new European Commission rules on conditions for raising minks.

Source: Chicago Tribune, 07/21/06

Police detain panda cub fur smuggler

Beijing — Chinese police have detained a man trying to sell the fur of a young panda — seen as a national treasure in the country — for about $30,000, the official Xinhua news agency said Monday.

The man, surnamed Yang, was caught when he was about to finish the 250,000 yuan ($31,310) sale in the southeastern port city of Xiamen, Xinhua said.

“The fur is 60 centimetres (24 inches) long and belonged to a panda cub,” it quoted experts as saying.

Yang and his accomplice, who is wanted by police, bought the fur with 6,000 yuan seven years ago from a man in the country’s southwest where most pandas live, the report said, adding police also found the pelt of a clouded leopard with Yang.

Source: Reuters, 07/24/06

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