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French court upholds charge against Lafarge over Syria operation

French court confirms charge of complicity in ‘crimes against humanity’ for Lafarge over alleged payoffs to ISIL (ISIS) and other armed groups.

A French appeals court has confirmed a charge of complicity in crimes against humanity for cement group Lafarge over alleged payoffs to ISIL (ISIS) and other armed groups during Syria’s war, paving the way for an eventual trial.

Rights activists hope the case will serve as a bellwether for prosecuting multinationals accused of turning a blind eye to “terrorist” operations in exchange for continuing to operate in war-torn countries.

Lafarge, now part of the Swiss building materials conglomerate Holcim, has acknowledged that it paid nearly 13 million euros ($13.6m) to middlemen to keep its Syrian cement factory running in 2013 and 2014, long after other French firms had pulled out of the country.

The company contends that it had no responsibility for the money winding up in the hands of armed groups, and in 2019 it won a court ruling that threw out the charge of complicity in crimes against humanity.

But that ruling was overturned by France’s supreme court, which ordered a retrial in September 2021. The decision on Wednesday means that a judge could order Lafarge and eight of its executives, including former CEO Bruno Lafont, to stand trial.

The appeals court sided with prosecutors who said Lafarge had “financed, via its subsidiaries, Islamic State [ISIL] operations with several millions of euros in full awareness of its activities”.

It also upheld charges of financing terrorism and endangering the lives of others for putting its Syrian employees at risk as ISIL (ISIS) fighters took over large swathes of the country, before Lafarge abandoned its cement plant in Jalabiya, near Aleppo, in September 2014.

Holcim, which merged with Lafarge in 2015, said the company would appeal the court’s decision.

“We firmly believe that this offence should not be held against Lafarge, which will file an appeal,” the group added.

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