Cement giant LafargeHolcim has been charged and is under investigation in France over payments made in Syria to terrorist groups to keep its plant in the country operational as the civil war intensified.
Subsidiary Lafarge was indicted by investigative judges on charges of complicity in crimes against humanity, work incompatible with human dignity, financing of a terrorist enterprise, and endangerment of people’s lives, according to a plaintiff in the case, the anti-corruption group Sherpa.
Sherpa and other plaintiffs, including former Lafarge employees, had accused Lafarge potentially of paying ISIS protection money.
Last year, Lafarge admitted paying groups in the country, including armed groups deemed terrorists by the US and UK, in order to keep the new Jalabiya plant operating in Northern Syria as violence mounted after 2011.
However, Lafarge says it will appeal against some of the charges, which it considers unfair.
Eight former managers of the company are already being investigated.
A Lafarge internal investigation last year concluded that those in charge of the Jalabiya plant had taken "unacceptable" measures in order to keep the plant open and protect employees amid growing chaos.
Lafarge completed the Jalabiya plant only in May 2010 at a cost of approximately $680m. The uprising that led to the Syrian civil war erupted in early 2011.
The plant closed in 2014 and the following year later Lafarge merged with Swiss cement-maker Holcim.
LafargeHolcim chairman, Beat Hess, said in a statement: "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."
The former managers under investigation include LafargeHolcim’s first chief executive, Eric Olsen, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Reacting to yesterday’s indictments, Sherpa called it a "worldwide premiere".
"The indictment of Lafarge is a historic step in the fight against the impunity of multinationals led by Sherpa since 17 years.
"This case must create a precedent for all the corporations that fuel armed conflicts. Access to justice for thousands of victims in war-torn countries, among which the Syrian plaintiffs, depends on it," said director Sandra Cossart.
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