Robert Harneis-TDO- (France)- The French cement giant Lafarge has been placed under formal investigation for involvement in crimes against humanity and financing a terrorist enterprise in Syria. The administration of former President François Hollande may also be implicated.
Lafarge is suspected of paying nearly €13 million to the Islamic State (IS) group after the jihadist group seized control of the Jalabiya region in northern Syria where the company was running a cement plant.
A French judicial official has told the AP that the company was being investigated as a legal entity that violated an embargo and endangered the lives of others.
Lafarge has acknowledged funneling money to Syrian armed groups in 2013 and 2014 - allegedly including the IS group - to guarantee safe passage for employees and supply its plant in the war-torn country.
Three Lafarge officials were charged last year for turning a blind eye to the company’s payments to the jihadist group.
Bruno Lafont, Lafarge chief executive from 2007 to 2015, and the group's former Syria chief, Christian Herrault, have been charged with "financing a terrorist organization” and "endangering the lives of others".
Eric Olsen, who took over from Lafont as CEO after the company merged with Switzerland's Holcim, has also been charged with the same crimes.
The alleged offences precede Lafarge's merger with Swiss company Holcim in 2015 to create LafargeHolcim, the world's largest cement maker.
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."
In a statement Thursday, LafargeHolcim said Lafarge "will appeal against those charges which do not fairly represent the responsibilities" of the company. The company may be referring to the recent revelations by the newspaper Libération, who reveal that investigations are underway to establish whether in fact not only the company management but the Prime Minister’s office was fully informed of what was going on. The newspaper claims that in fact the French secret services were regularly kept informed of the situation by Lafarge’s security director Jean-Claude Veillard.
Had it not been for pressure from certain NGOs it is doubtful if the French judicial authorities would have moved against the company.