Lafarge is alleged to have paid millions to armed groups including ISIS in a bid to keep a cement factory near Raqqa open
French company indicted for paying off Syrian armed groups
A French cement manufacturer has been charged with “complicity in crimes against humanity”, over payments totalling €13 million (Dh56 million) to rebel groups, including ISIS, to keep a factory in Syria open until late 2014.
French media reports that the indictment, issued to Lafarge, once the largest cement company in the world, on Thursday listed the company’s offences as “violation of an embargo, endangering the lives of others, financing a terrorist company and complicity of crimes against humanity.”
Eight officials have previously been charged with indirectly funding terrorist groups as a result of the company’s operation in Syria during the civil war.
Production at the $680 million Jalabiya factory north of Raqqa began in May 2010, barely a year before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.
Documents de-classified by French security services in May alleged that the company paid Euro 13 million to keep the factory operating between 2011 and late 2014. The documents claim the money was spent on the purchases of raw materials, including oil from militant groups, and paying taxes to ensure the security of employees, and the cement plant itself.
It is alleged that taxes were paid to ISIS to protect factory employees, as well as for the purchase of raw materials from a quarry controlled by the group east of Raqqa.
However, the company’s protection payments were not enough, and in September 2014, ISIS over-ran the factory, a propaganda video released by the group showed masked fighters parading through the factory grounds.
Questions have also been asked regarding how aware French officials were of the company's continued operations in Syria as the war unfolded. Emails released in April, show that French officials asked their US counterparts not to bomb the factory in 2014 when much of the area was under the control of ISIS.
Last March, the company admitting to paying off "armed groups, including sanctioned parties, in order to maintain operations and ensure safe passage of employees and supplies to and from the plant."
The case was filed by French Human Rights NGO Sherpa, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and eleven Syrian former employees of Lafarge.
Dr Nadia Bernaz, an associate professor of law at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, says that the indictment should be regarded as a major legal event.
“The corporation itself has been indicted as a legal person, which raises the possibility of criminal liability, it’s unique that they have been charged with complicity of crimes against humanity.
“Individual businessmen at end of World War II were indicted for very similar things, though the term was not used. We have examples of this, but they were individual prosecutions, not prosecutions against companies. There has always been this argument that it cannot really be done, or it’s too complicated, and we should just focus on individuals, not corporations.
“As far as I know… this is the first time we have had a company indicted for complicity in crimes against humanity in criminal proceedings.”