Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 28 January 2020

French firm accused of financing ISIS cleared of 'crimes against humanity'

Lafarge is alleged to have paid millions to armed groups including ISIS in a bid to keep a cement factory near Raqqa open

A fighter of the Christian Syriac militia that fought ISIS burns an ISIS flag.
A fighter of the Christian Syriac militia that fought ISIS burns an ISIS flag.

A French appeal court has rejected a charge of "complicity in crimes against humanity" brought against cement maker Lafarge over its operations in Syria.

The firm has been accused of making payments totalling £11.2 million (Dh56 million) to rebel groups, including ISIS, to keep a factory in Syria open until late 2014.

It is believed to have been the first time a firm had been charged with complicity in crimes against humanity.

Lafarge, part of Lafarge Holcim, still faces charges of "financing of terrorism", "violating an embargo" and putting the lives of workers in danger, lawyers and a judicial source told AFP.

Just last month US-led coalition forces left the Syrian cities of Tabqah and Raqqa as well as the Lafarge cement factory as part of the withdrawal from northeast Syria.

On Thursday, lawyer Marie Dose, who represents the French human rights NGO Sherpa, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) told Reuters French authorities are looking into whether it paid ISIS in 2013 and 2014 to keep its factories running in areas controlled by the group.

The charging of Lafarge with complicity in charges against humanity in June 2018 had been applauded by rights groups as the first time a company had faced such an indictment.

The company has acknowledged that supervision of its Syrian subsidiary failed to identify breaches of internal rules, but denies that the group as a whole was to blame.

"The court has come to the same conclusion as us, that there are no elements to charge Lafarge for this crime" of crimes against humanity, its lawyers Christophe Ingrain and Remi Lorrain said in a statement.

Eight former executives, including ex-CEO Bruno Laffont, have already been charged in 2017 with financing a terrorist group and/or endangering the lives of others over Lafarge's activities in Syria between 2011 and 2015.

According to lawyers, the charges were lessened against the company's former security chief Jean-Claude Veillard, but the other indictments were kept in place.

Production at the £528 million Jalabiya factory north of Raqqa began in May 2010, barely a year before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

Last year documents de-classified by French security services alleged the company paid £11.2 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.

Last year emails released, 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.

The indictment had been regarded as a major legal event as it was the first time a company indicted for complicity in crimes against humanity in criminal proceedings.

Updated: November 7, 2019 04:01 PM