French court rejects Lafarge’s request to drop charges against it

An exterior view of the Lafarge cement plant owned by Lafarge Holcim in the United Kingdom - September 17, 2021 (Reuters)

An exterior view of the Lafarge cement plant owned by Lafarge Holcim in the United Kingdom - September 17, 2021 (Reuters)

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On Tuesday, January 16, the French Court of Cassation rejected the request of the French cement company “Lafarge” to drop the charges made against it, accusing it of complicity in crimes against humanity as part of an investigation into how its factory in Syria continued to operate after the start of the war in 2011.

The ruling means that the criminal investigation, which was opened in 2017, can continue to determine the company’s criminal responsibility on the basis of accusations of committing crimes against humanity, according to what was reported by France 24.

According to the media agency, it is still unclear when the investigation will end and whether the prosecution will ultimately decide to refer the case to court to rule on the merits of the charges.

The court dropped charges against Lafarge of endangering the lives of its employees, while the company described the decision in a statement as “a legacy issue” that it is addressing through the legal process in France and did not provide any further comment, according to the agency.

The company had previously admitted, after its own internal investigation, that its Syrian branch paid armed groups to help protect the staff within the factory, but it denied accusations against it by the French judiciary, alleging that it was complicit in crimes against humanity due to its dealings with extremist groups in Syria, including the Islamic State organization.

The company argued that the French authorities do not have the official jurisdiction to prosecute accusations of involvement in war crimes abroad, something that the court rejected.

However, the company objected to the possibility that it might be guilty of endangering the lives of its local employees “by keeping staff in their jobs amidst deteriorating safety conditions.”

Lafarge mentioned that there is no particular obligation to protect them as French labor law is not applicable, and the Court of Cassation followed these arguments on Tuesday.

What is the “Lafarge case?

It is suspected that the French company “Lafarge,” a subsidiary of the Swiss group “Holcim,” paid millions of euros through its Syrian branch during 2013 and 2014 to “jihadist” groups, including the Islamic State organization, and to intermediaries to keep its cement plant operational in the Jalabiya region in northern Syria.

The company admitted to providing financial support to a “terrorist” organization during a hearing before an American court in October 2022.

The company is accused of paying 13 million euros to armed groups, including the Islamic State organization, to continue operations in Syria between 2011 and 2015.

According to Reuters, when Lafarge pleaded guilty before an American court in 2022, Holcim stated in a release that none of the behaviors involved Holcim, “which never operated in Syria, nor was any of Lafarge’s operations or employees in the United States, which starkly contrasts with everything Holcim stands for “.

Lafarge kept its Syrian employees working in the factory until September 2014, when the Islamic State took control of the factory, while by 2012, it had evacuated its foreign employees.

As part of a judicial investigation that began in 2017, “Lafarge SA,” the parent company, was charged in 2018 with complicity in crimes against humanity, with financing a “terrorist” venture and endangering the lives of others.

Although the Court of Cassation in 2021 definitively verified the indictment for financing a “terrorist” venture, the French group’s defense still hopes to obtain a suspended sentence for the mentioned accusations.

The final judgment by the Court of Cassation, the highest judicial body in France, was scheduled for October 3, 2023, but it decided to review the evidence after the defense raised a legal point concerning the endangerment of others’ lives, according to Agence France-Presse.

 

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