French firm Lafarge awaits ruling on Syria ‘crimes against humanity’
07 Sep 2021

France’s highest court will on Tuesday rule on whether cement giant Lafarge should remain charged with complicity in crimes against humanity over alleged payments made to Islamist militants in Syria at the height of the country’s civil war.

The French company is suspected of paying nearly 13 million euros ($15.3 million) to Islamic State (IS) and other militant groups in 2013 and 2014 to keep its cement factory in northern Syria running, long after other French firms had pulled out of the war-torn country.

It is also accused of buying petrol from IS through middlemen, violating an EU embargo on Syria.

Lafarge eventually left Syria in September 2014 after IS seized its plant in Jalabiya, around 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of the regional capital Aleppo.

Eight Lafarge executives, including former CEO Bruno Laffont, have already been charged with financing a terrorist group and/or endangering the lives of the cement-maker’s former Syrian staff.

In November 2019, the Court of Appeal in Paris quashed the crimes against humanity charges against the company but upheld the charges of financing terrorism, violating an embargo and endangering the lives of others.

Eleven former employees of Lafarge Cement Syria challenged that decision at the Court of Cassation, France’s final court of appeal, with the backing of two NGOs.

Lafarge, which merged in 2015 with Swiss group Holcim, has acknowledged that its Syrian subsidiary paid middlemen to negotiate with armed groups to allow the movement of staff and goods inside the war zone.

But it denies any responsibility for the money winding up in the hands of terrorist groups and has fought to have the case dropped, particularly the crime against humanity charges.

By Eleonore Dermy, AFP, 6 September 2021

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