Tayo Busayo, Abuja
DAILY COURIER – French cement giant, Lafarge SA, will pay a $778 million fine, after pleading guilty to providing material support to Islamic State and other terror groups during the Syrian civil war, the US Justice Department (DoJ) said Tuesday.
According to DoJ, Lafarge SA paid “middlemen” $12.8 million to let its Syrian cement factory run between 2013 and 2014, when the country was torn apart by the civil war.
It further said that the cement company, which merged with Switzerland’s Holcim in 2015, paid another terror group, al Nusra Front, around $5.92m to protect staff at the plant, long after other competitors left the market.
“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 organisations, so that it could continue selling cement.
“Lafarge did this not merely in exchange for permission to operate its cement plant — which would have been bad enough — but also to leverage its relationship with ISIS for economic advantage”, said DoJ prosecutor, Breon Peace
In a statement, Larfage acknowledged its crime and “deeply regretted” the events, and “accepted responsibility for the individual executives involved.
“We have agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organisations in Syria.
“Lafarge SA and Lafarge Cement Syria have accepted responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, whose behaviour was in flagrant violation of Lafarge’s Code of Conduct.
“We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the US Department of Justice to resolve this matter”, it said.
In 2010, Lafarge opened its subsidiary cement factory in Jalabiya near the Turkish border. It had invested $680 million.
But in 2014, the company ceased its operations after the Islamic State took control of the town and the factory.
Apart from the company, eight Lafarge executives, including former CEO, Bruno Laf, are also charged with financing a terrorist group and/or endangering the lives of others.
Earlier this year, a French court ruled that the company was aware that much of the money had gone to finance Islamic State operations.
Earlier, Holcim Group, the Swiss conglomerate which took over Lafarge in 2015, said the US Justice Department had cleared it of any wrongdoing.
It said it only learned of the allegations in 2016, and launched its own probe and cooperated with US justice authorities.
“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”, it said in a separate statement.
The company statements came shortly before a planned press conference by Justice Department officials in New York to announce the settlement of the longstanding case.
Shares of Holcim were temporarily suspended on the Swiss stock exchange after news of the fine emerged.
Rights activists have expressed hope the case would 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.