Note: After the publication of this text, Ökoworld AG announced on its website that, unlike previously announced, it would not pay the fines for the “last generation” after all. We will update this text accordingly.
For the protests of the “last generation” it would have been a real “game changer”: The public company “Ökoworld” had announced that it would pay all penalties of the “last generation” in the future. The founder and CEO Alfred Platow justified this step by saying that they wanted to support the protest for more climate protection. “Consequences for civil disobedience are fundamentally understandable and important for a functioning society,” Platow wrote on the company’s website.
But on Thursday, Platow backtracked in a statement on the company’s website: Ökoworld has been “massively publicly attacked” since the announcement. Employees also experienced personal attacks. He had expected criticism, “but not to this emotional extent”. Platow made it clear in his statement that he “personally bears sole responsibility”. It was not his intention to incite crimes, he just wanted to support “protests for climate protection” and “from my perspective” courageous climate activists. At the same time, Platow announced that he would transfer 20,000 euros to the environmental trust fund. The money comes “exclusively from private sources”, neither the special assets of the Ökoworld funds nor company funds are used for this.
The “Last Generation” had previously expressed their delight at the prospect of a public company paying all of its followers’ fines in the future. Taking on the fines would have cleared an important hurdle to taking part in the protests, the activists said in a statement to their supporters.
Accordingly, one should simply send notifications of fees or fines including IBAN to Ökoworld AG. They would then refund the money. The public limited company confirmed the procedure in a press release and wrote: “After payment of the fine by the ‘offenders’ who stuck for climate protection, we will pay 100% of the fees and transfer the money to the respective private account against proof of the speeding ticket and transfer receipt”.
Ökoworld AG from Hilden in North Rhine-Westphalia is a listed company in the “field of ethical-ecological capital investments”. This includes, for example, investment funds as well as company and private pension schemes. Ökoworld AG is also the parent company of the capital management company Ökoworld Lux S.A, which has its registered office in Luxembourg. The portfolio includes various investment funds.
One of them is the Ökoworld Ökovision Classic, which had a volume of 1.4 billion euros in 2020. According to the annual report, Ökoworld itself reported a consolidated net profit of 56.8 million euros for 2021 – 19.4 million euros more than in the previous year. According to the annual report, the group already donated 200,000 euros for various initiatives last year.
However, the announcement of the “last generation” could also backfire for activists in trials. A long-time criminal judge who wants to remain anonymous sees this as a serious problem to WELT: “If an accused knows that fines will be paid, then such a judgment has neither a general nor a special preventive effect, so it does not deter the general public or the accused from others Deeds.” He expects that courts, aware of such practices, could no longer regard fines as “appropriate” and “impose more and more prison sentences”.
The public limited company could also be threatened with unforeseen consequences. Criminal law expert Martin Waßmer from the University of Cologne: “If the board of directors of an AG instructs the payment, this can be breach of trust according to § 266 StGB. There is a breach of duty if the acceptance of a sanction is not oriented towards the best interests of the company and violates the principles of proper corporate governance.
In particular, Waßmer sees the payment of fines for “outsiders” as “very problematic”: “The board of directors must not simply squander or give away funds from the AG.” Background: According to its own statements, Ökoworld AG is “a leading listed company in the field of ethical ecological capital investments”. The lawyer has “great doubts” as to whether payments can still be rated as “image measures”.
Munich criminal law professor Matthias Krüger goes one step further. He regards the company’s project as a fact of “frustration of a criminal purpose” – it is about “a so-called psychological aid to future criminal offenses of the ‘last generation’, which for those responsible at Ökoworld AG, in particular their board members, is an aid -Criminal liability established”. Possible consequences: fines or even short-term imprisonment for Ökoworld managers. “The AG would be well advised to rethink that,” says Krüger.
However, experts dispute whether there will be direct consequences in the case law of the local and regional courts in view of the regular assumption of costs after actions by climate activists. Milan Kuhli, professor at the University of Hamburg’s Faculty of Law, says: “Since the payment of fines is not actually a special ‘last generation’ phenomenon, but a general and well-known phenomenon, I do not expect that this will have an impact on the sentencing practice.”
The topic is not new to Grischa Merkel, who holds the chair for criminal law at the University of Greifswald. For example, the “Freedom Fund” initiative would take over fines in order to spare notorious fare dodgers imprisonment. In practice, however, it is anyway the case that “in the event of a repeat offense of the same type, higher penalties, up to and including imprisonment without probation” are imposed: “Of course, whether this type of prevention is effective is another matter.”
Michael Kubiciel, professor of criminal procedural law at the University of Augsburg, believes that the judiciary is unlikely to tighten up in view of the fines reimbursed by Ökoworld: “The guilt of the act and the perpetrator decides on the sentence, special preventive and general preventive considerations only play a subordinate role,” so Kubiciel to WELT.
It is also common in the areas of juvenile or corporate crime “that parents or employers pay legal costs, fines and fines.” and sentences of imprisonment are imposed,” said the lawyer.
The announcement of a flat-rate assumption of the costs of criminal prosecution by the AG meanwhile causes irritation among emergency services. Jochen Kopelke, Federal Chairman of the Police Union (GdP) on WELT: “The ‘last generation’ probably has many donors who work in many places. That is not surprising, otherwise such criminal actions could hardly be sustained for so long and in such a structured manner.”
Berlin’s Interior Senator Iris Spranger (SPD) also criticized the reimbursement of fees by Ökoworld AG in clear terms. She personally wishes that companies would not support such actions, said Spranger at the European Police Congress in Berlin.
According to Spranger, the police charge 241 euros for one sticking, and 2,000 euros for notorious repeat offenders. The activists didn’t mind these penalties because they had the funds, Spranger said. However, penalties will continue to be imposed.
According to Spranger, an initiative in the conference of interior ministers should also deal with the financial flows behind the “last generation”. As an example, she cited the “Berlin 2030 climate-neutral” referendum, which had received significant sums of money from American philanthropic foundations. According to the interior senator, it is critical if money from abroad is used to intervene in possible legislative processes. “We’ll do something about that. We’ll have to deal with that,” said Spranger. You have to look very carefully at where the money is coming from.
The interior senator also announced that preventive custody would be extended to five days in the new coalition. So far, only two days are possible in Berlin. According to Spranger, this has not had a deterrent effect so far. The Berlin police have completed 350,000 emergency service hours in the context of the climate protests, and according to Spranger, more than 30 ambulances have been disabled so far.