France: Several former Lafarge executives under formal investigation as part of inquiry into alleged financing of terrorist groups in Syria

In December 2017, French authorities placed several former Lafarge executives under official investigation for alleged "financing of terrorism" and "endangering the lives of others" in the context of a judicial inquiry launched in June 2017 against the Franco-Swiss cement group LafargeHolcim concerning the maintenance of its activities in Syria between 2011 and 2014 during the civil war. The investigation concerns alleged payments to terrorist groups including the Islamic State (IS) as well as the working conditions and security of Syrian employees at the Jalabiya factory in northern Syria.

In November 2016, NGOs Sherpa and ECCHR filed a complaint on behalf of former Syrian employees alleging funding of terrorist groups and complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. The complaint was filed in France against Lafarge and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS).

In mid-December, Sherpa said that Lafarge had directly or indirectly paid 13 million to terrorist organizations. The NGO also requested the opening of an investigation for alleged obstruction of justice, evoking the "clearing" of essential elements and attempts to buy the silence of certain people auditioned in the framework of the investigation. Sherpa also questioned the "complacency or complicity" of the French authorities, which in its opinion failed to act in due course.

The LafargeHolcim group denied the accusations and said it cooperates with the French justice system.



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12 December 2017

Lafarge paid 13 million euros to armed groups to keep operating in Syria, rights group say

Author: Emmanuel Jarry, Reuters

French cement group Lafarge paid close to 13 million euros ($15.2 million) to armed groups including Islamic State militants to keep operating in Syria from 2011-2015, human rights lawyers said on Tuesday.

...The lawyers for rights group Sherpa said a large part of the money went directly or indirectly into the pockets of Islamic State and that payments lasted until well after the closure of Lafarge’s Jalabiya plant in September 2014.

...“As part of the inquiry, the precise figure retained is 12,946,000 euros paid by Lafarge between 2011 and 2015 to terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State,” 

...Former LafargeHolcim CEO Eric Olsen resigned in April after the company admitted it had paid armed groups to keep a factory operating in Syria. His lawyer has said Olsen will appeal against being put under investigation.

Sherpa and other human rights groups in France as well as the French Finance Ministry have filed suit against Lafarge.

Sherpa wants the company to be placed under formal criminal investigation, like Olsen, and also accuses Lafarge of not cooperating with authorities and trying to hide important elements from the investigation.

...Being placed under formal investigation in France means that prosecutors believe they have “serious or consistent evidence” that could result in prosecution. 

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12 December 2017

Top Lafarge executives, including former CEO, indicted on terror financing charges

Author: France 24 and AFP (France)

...Lafarge is accused of paying the Islamic State group and other militants through a middleman between 2013 and 2014 so that the company's factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria, could continue to operate despite the war.

...[On December 8th, the] chief executive from 2007 to 2015, and the group's former Syria chief Christian Herrault, appeared in court and were charged with "financing a terrorist organisation and "endangering the lives of others" and remanded in custody. On [December 7th, the former] CEO... was charged with the same crimes...The three men have been in detention since Wednesday.

Three former officials at the Jalabiya factory were charged in the case last week.

...Lafarge's Syrian subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) paid out some $5.6 million (4.7 million euros) between July 2012 and September 2014...Of this, more than half a million dollars went to IS...

...Investigators are also trying to determine whether Lafarge failed to ensure the security of its Syrian staff who stayed behind after management left the country in the summer of 2012.

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4 December 2017

Lafarge made 'unacceptable errors' in Syria: chairman

Author: eNCA (South Africa) and AFP (France)

The Swiss-French cement company LafargeHolcim should have stopped its operations in war-torn Syria before it did, its chairman said in an interview published Sunday, after three executives were charged with indirectly financing jihadists.

Beat Hess told French daily Le Figaro that the group was going through "a difficult phase" that was "a problem for the company's reputation".

..."Unacceptable errors were made which the company regrets and condemns," Hess said, adding that Lafarge "probably pulled out of Syria too late".

...Hess, who became chairman of the company in May 2016, said that he had "full confidence" in the French legal system, and that "if we can help, we will do so".

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1 December 2017

France places three under formal investigation in Lafarge Syria payments case

Author: Reuters (UK)

French investigators have placed three people under formal investigation as part of a judicial inquiry into the Syrian activities of cement and construction group LafargeHolcim...

...[The] placing of suspects under formal investigation... could result in prosecution. Friday’s decision puts the three men one step closer to trial, though the investigation can still be dropped.

Prosecutors launched an investigation in June into Lafarge’s operations and its possible “financing of a terrorist enterprise”...

...Two of the people under investigation are former executives of the company in Syria. The third is a former head of security for Lafarge... and who still works for the company.

...Lawyers for two of the men said on Friday that their clients denied any wrongdoing. A lawyer for the third person declined to comment.

LafargeHolcim has also declined to comment on the case.

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