Three top officials from French-Swiss industrial giant Lafarge have been put under formal investigation for alleged “financing of a terrorist enterprise,” judicial sources said. French prosecutors are looking into the company’s activities in Syria.
The scandal hit LafargeHolcim (created after France’s Lafarge merged with the Swiss company Holcim in 2015) in summer 2016 following a report in Le Monde. The paper claimed Lafarge paid Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in 2013-2014 to continue operations in northern Syria. Lafarge’s Jalabiya plant in northern Syria was the conduit for the payments.
On Friday Frederic Jolibois, who took over as manager of the Jalabiya plant in 2014, was charged with financing a terrorist company, violation of European regulations concerning the embargo on Syrian oil and endangering the lives of others, his lawyer Jean Reinhart said as cited by French media.
Jolibois has admitted that he bought oil from “non-governmental organisations”, in particular from Kurdish and Islamist groups. In 2011 the EU imposed sanctions on import of Syrian oil, as well as investment in the energy industry. Jolibois’ predecessor Bruno Pescheux and Lafarge security boss Jean-Claude Veillard, were also charged with financing terrorism and endangering others’ lives, AFP reported citing judicial sources.
Pescheux, who managed the plant from 2008 till 2014, admitted that Lafarge paid up to $100,000 a month to an intermediary who turned out to be Firas Tlass, a Syrian business tycoon. Tlass, who was a minor partner of the plant, would send around $20,000 of this money to IS, Pescheux said. Veillard added that when IS finally took control of the plant in September 2014, Syrian employees “had to flee on their own”.“My client [Veillard] never had any decision-making power in Lafarge,” his lawyer Sebastien Schapira said, adding that he would contest Veillard’s indictment.
In March 2017 the firm admitted that it provided funds to “certain armed groups” and “sanctioned parties” in order “to maintain operations and ensure safe passage of employees and supplies to and from the plant.” All monetary transactions were made between 2013 and September 2014, when the plant was evacuated. A month later, in April 2017 LafargeHolcim CEO Eric Olsen announced his resignation. He denied any wrongdoing but said that his “departure will contribute to bringing back serenity to a company that has been exposed for months on this case.”
LafargeHolcim is a world leader in building materials and one of the biggest players in the cement, aggregate, and concrete industries. Around 90,000 employees are working for the group in more than 80 countries, according to the data from the company’s website.