French cement firm Lafarge charged in Syria funding deals
PARIS (AP) — French cement company Lafarge was handed Thursday preliminary charges including financing a terrorist enterprise and complicity in crimes against humanity.
A French judicial official said the charges against the company as a legal entity also include violation of an embargo and endangering others.
He spoke anonymously because he was not allowed to disclose details on the ongoing investigation.
Lafarge has acknowledged funneling money to Syrian armed organizations in 2013 and 2014 — allegedly including the Islamic State group — to guarantee safe passage for employees and supply its plant in the war-torn country.
Three officials with Lafarge were previously handed charges for their alleged roles in the process. The French press identified them as two former plant officials and Lafarge’s security chief.
The wrongdoing precedes Lafarge’s merger with Swiss company Holcim in 2015 to create LafargeHolcim, the world’s largest cement maker.
In a statement Thursday, LafargeHolcim said Lafarge “will appeal against those charges which do not fairly represent the responsibilities” of the company.
The chairman of the board of LafargeHolcim, Beat Hess, said “we truly regret what has happened in the Syria subsidiary and after learning about it took immediate and firm actions. None of the individuals put under investigation is today with the company.”
LafargeHolcim commissioned an independent investigation in 2016 that “revealed that the local company provided funds to third parties to work out arrangements with a number of armed groups, which included sanctioned parties,” the statement said.
The company confirmed in front of the judges Thursday “that unacceptable individual errors were made in Syria until the site was evacuated in September 2014, which it firmly regrets.”
It pledged to fully cooperate with the legal authorities.
French media reports that investigating judges don’t rule out that the money provided by Lafarge might have helped finance the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
In January, the magistrates allowed the association “Life for Paris,” which represents victims and families of November 2015 attacks, to join the procedure as a civil party.
The probe was opened in October 2016 after the French Ministry of Economy and Finance filed a complaint against Lafarge.
French NGO Sherpa subsequently also filed a complaint against the company. It claimed Lafarge and its local subsidiary made “arrangements” with Islamic State to obtain passes and to buy oil and other raw materials needed to produce cement in IS-controlled areas of Syria.