Middle East

France’s Lafarge pleads guilty to US charge of supporting terror groups in Syria

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French cement maker Lafarge pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a US charge that it made payments to groups designated as terrorists by the United States, including the Islamic State (IS) group, agreeing to pay almost $780 million in fines and forfeitures.

The admission in Brooklyn federal court marked the first time a company has pleaded guilty in the United States to charges of providing material support to a terrorist organisation.

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Lafarge, which became part of Swiss-listed Holcim in 2015, is also facing charges of complicity in crimes against humanity in Paris for keeping a factory running in Syria after a conflict broke out in 2011.

Lafarge agreed to forfeit $687 million (698 million euros) and pay a fine of $90 million in its guilty plea.

The US Justice Department said the company and its Syrian subsidiary actively sought the IS group's help to squeeze out competitors when the radical Islamists controlled large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2013-2014, operating an effective "revenue sharing agreement" with them.

It also paid access and protection money to associates of the IS group and the similarly radical al-Nusra Front, ultimately earning some $70 million in revenues during the period, with a Lafarge executive saying the cooperation was "to share the cake."

"In the midst of a civil war, Lafarge made the unthinkable choice to put money into the hands of ISIS, one of the world's most barbaric terrorist organizations, so that it could continue selling cement," Justice Department prosecutor Breon Peace said, using another acronym for the IS group.

The cement maker previously admitted after an internal investigation that its Syrian subsidiary paid armed groups to help protect staff at the plant. But it had denied charges that it was complicit in crimes against humanity.

Lafarge Chair Magali Anderson said in court that from August 2013 until November 2014 former executives of the company "knowingly and willfully agreed to participate in a conspiracy to make and authorize payments intended for the benefit of various armed groups in Syria."

"The individuals responsible for this conduct have been separated from the company since at least 2017," she said.

In a statement, Holcim noted that none of the conduct involved Holcim, "which has never operated in Syria, or any Lafarge operations or employees in the United States, and it is in stark contrast with everything that Holcim stands for."

Holcim said that former Lafarge executives involved in the conduct concealed it from Holcim, as well as from external auditors.

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters, AFP)

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