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Complicity in crimes against humanity: court upholds charge against Lafarge


A Paris appeals court has confirmed that the cement firm Lafarge must face charges of complicity in crimes against humanity over alleged payoffs to Islamic State group and other jihadist groups during Syria’s civil war. Lafarge is now part of the Swiss Holcim cement group, which says it will appeal the decision.

A legal adviser for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which is a party to the case, told Reuters on Wednesday that the Paris court of Appeals had confirmed a ruling by France’s highest court. This latter said last year said Lafarge can be probed for charges linked to crimes against humanity for keeping a factory running in Syria after conflict erupted in 2011.

The public prosecutor’s office also confirmed in a statement obtained by the AWP news agency that Lafarge “remains under investigation for these charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and endangering the lives of others, as part of the judicial investigation which is continuing”.

In a statementExternal link, Holcim said it “strongly disagreed” with the court’s decision and would take it to the French Supreme Court.

“It is important to specify that this decision is not a judgment,” the Zug-based multinational said. “It is a question of determining the extent of the charges examined.”

Holcim added: “We reiterate that the alleged conduct at Lafarge SA is in stark contrast with everything that the group stands for as a company. The events concerning Lafarge SA were concealed from our Board at the time of the merger in 2015 and go completely against our values. Lafarge SA continues to cooperate fully with the French authorities in their investigation into the alleged conduct.”

Complex proceedings

In 2021, Lafarge lost a bid to dismiss the charge of complicity in crimes against humanity in Syria’s conflict when France’s highest court saidExternal link the matter should be re-examined, overturning an earlier ruling.

The company is accused of having paid nearly €13 million (CHF15 million) via a subsidiary to intermediaries and armed groups, including the Islamic State. The payments were reportedly made in 2013 and 2014 to maintain production in its Jalabiya plant, while the country was sinking into war.

The company has admitted, following its own internal investigation, that its Syrian subsidiary made payments to armed groups to help protect staff at the plant, but denies it was complicit in crimes against humanity because of its dealings with these groups, including Islamic State.

In late 2019, another court threw out the charge, but 11 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.

The investigation into Lafarge is one of the most extensive and complex corporate criminal proceedings in contemporary French legal history. Lafarge and Holcim merged in 2015 to form LafargeHolcim; it is now known as Holcim Group.

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